Popcorn, Peanuts and Plenty of Pain

I’ve always found the circus off-putting. Growing up, I never had much interest in going. Seeing animals perform wasn’t appealing, zoos, sigh, that’s a subject matter to be touched on next week. I always boggle at how quickly society blames the “raging” elephant for stampeding through a crowd of circus goers…

How does this scenario sound, you are at home, lounging in your pj’s on a lazy Sunday morning. Me and my crew of about 10 barge in. Before you have time to think, let alone react, you are out cold from a tranquilizer dart. Next thing you know, you are in a cage, being shipped to Kalamazoo, MI. Once you get there, you refuse to budge from the cage. It’s safer to stay in there than to venture out into this strange and unfamiliar world. But, after several bashes from the bullhook, you just can’t take it anymore.

As you move out of the cage, you notice that your legs are shackled together.

All you can think is, “how can I get out of here?” Other thoughts start flooding through your mind. Your home, your family…seconds later some man, the one with the bullhook, is yelling at you. You have no idea what he’s saying, but you can tell he’s mad because he begins hitting you with that hook again.You begin to bleed and bruise. Tears well up in your eyes. Over the next few weeks, you do everything in your power to avoid being beaten…

Not a fun way to live, is it? I have no trouble in seeing myself loosing my mind in the face of such extreme abuse.

I recently read the novel Water for Elephants, which is about circus life during the Depression era. I was pretty disappointed. The overall story was fine, but it was the Q&A and Author’s Notes that ruined it. Gruen has the reader’s attention and heart, yet  at the end she failed to take a solid stance against the abuse that animals endure in circuses. Gruen shares examples of two elephants, Topsy and Old Mom. Topsy ended up killing her trainer after he fed her a lit cigarette. She was then brutally murdered via cyanide doused carrots and/or electrocution. Old Mom was labeled as stupid, until the trainer discovered she actually only understood German commands. Gruen never uses the words cruelty, inhumane, or revolting, when talking about the circus. I don’t understand how you can write a book such as this and not discuss the blatant animal abuse.

While I was still incensed by this, a friend recently told me that she plans on taking her son to the circus this Saturday. I had to muster up every ounce of energy to keep from screaming into the phone. After remembering to breathe, I found myself totally tongue-tied. I didn’t want to insult my friend, and her desire to have bonding time with her son is a good thing. I tried to think of good alternative bonding activities, but couldn’t come up with anything. I did some research today, and found a whole heap of great, kid-friendly activities to do.

There are tons of other activities, but a lot of them are time sensitive. Parents can check out event calendars or join/create Meetup groups.

If any of you are considering, or have considered going to the circus (Shrine, Ringling, Barnum, etc..) Please check out alternative events in your area first. The stories I shared earlier are just a small glimpse of the atrocities that occur each day in the animal entertainment business.

For more info on circuses, visit CRY.

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Fishing for Facts

Growing up, fishing was a large part of my life. Every summer my parents rented a cabin up north for a week or two and we spent much of our time casting out lines. From sunnies to muskies, I caught them all. Sunnies were my favorite. Bluegill Sunfish are one of the most beautiful freshwater fish to swim the lakes. Whenever I caught one, I had my dad take the fish off the hook and hold her steady so I could pet her. Yes, slime and scales aside, I think fish are fascinating. Unfortunately, I never made the connection that fish have feelings too.

After transitioning towards vegetarianism in 2008, I put the pole away, but I still had a tight grip on my fork. One night I was out to dinner with a strict-vegetarian friend and I commented on a recent fish dish I had eaten. She was absolutely appalled. How dare I call myself vegetarian and consume fish? Looking back at it now, I can’t believe I did not consider fish “meat” or “animal flesh.” To me, fish had always been fish. I never took my thinking any further.

After much unpleasant reading, I began to see the error of my ways. First, fish feel pain. According to Dr. Donald Broom, “The scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and animals.” This is difficult to notice, and easy to dismiss, because fish do not make noises detectable to the human ear like cows or pigs do. Although, if you observe a fish’s behavior after being caught you can tell that she is doing everything in her nature to get free and escape the pain from the hook and suffocation.

Second, fish have brains and they know how to use them. Fish have the ability to learn from experience, something many of us human animals struggle with every day. When fish see other fish being swooped up by a trawling net, they will avoid these nets. Some fish have even been observed using tools, “the South African fish who lay eggs on leaves so that they can carry them to a safe place.”

Finally, fish slaughter is just just as cruel and inhumane as the slaughter of land mammals. Fish are “impaled, crushed, suffocated, or sliced open and gutted, all while they’re fully conscious.” Of the fish slaughtered for consumption, 40% are raised on aquafarms. These aquafarms are similar to the factory farms that most land animals are raised in. Conditions on aquafarms are nothing like the wild; fish are drugged, genetically modified, overcrowded and are at greater risk for diseases, infections and injuries.

Fishing no longer conjures up the warm and fuzzy memories of yesteryear. Maybe this, in part,was the reason I was so reluctant to educate myself further on the matter. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force. Hopefully this inspires some of you to have a greater respect for our often overlooked floundering friends.