Animal welfare is more important than our entertainment

PUTNEY — A few weeks ago, I was at the Big E in West Springfield, Mass., for a dog show. When I walked my dogs, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a live camel in the far end of the parking lot.

My surprise and delight at seeing a dromedary (one-humped camel) quickly paled when I realized that the transport trailer there contained at least one live tiger. I glimpsed his tail through the ajar back doors and saw a setup for training big cats as well.

My heart broke to imagine this big, active animal living like that.

I called the Big E and was told it was setting up for the annual Shriners Circus, produced by Hamid Circus from New Jersey.

On the Hamid website, you'll see that they indeed have animal acts with big cats and elephants, along with the dromedary. I have tried contacting them to see how the animals live when not performing. No response thus far.

I spoke with many informational and regulatory agencies. I found out that not all the money raised by the Shriners goes to help kids in the Shriners' hospitals, as I had assumed. The man I spoke with at the local Shriner organization confirmed this, saying “Money goes to the Shriners activities and that includes our facilities as well as our hospital.”

When we watch animal acts at the circus, there is no evidence of outright abuse or cruelty, and it's easy to believe that out of the circus setting, they have good lives. Sadly, I don't think this is true.

Particularly because Ringling Bros. has made the news by saying it would eliminate its elephant acts by 2018, you might also have thought that wild-animal acts were no longer part of circuses.

Not so. Ringling will continue the use of big cats. Its decision to stop using elephants was based on undercover film footage of outright abuse, which evoked a huge public outcry.

I believe that many animals trained to entertain us spend their days in small cages or enclosures, as the tiger I saw likely does, where they pace continuously. This well-studied scientific phenomenon, “stereotyped behavior,” indicates serious mental distress.

I hope we get to the point where we as a species establish a kindness toward animals which includes allowing them to enjoy species-appropriate behavior, such as enough exercise and stimuli to occupy their minds. Imagine keeping your house cat in a crate the size for a Labrador retriever, 24/7/365, except for training sessions in a larger pen.

Maybe you will join me in speaking up for these animals who cannot speak up for themselves. We can speak even more loudly by refusing to support any businesses that use animals inhumanely - and also question organizations that pair with these businesses to raise money for their charities.

Speak out and express your concerns to those organizations. If enough people do this, things will change.

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