Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Only a Clown Would Go to the Shrine Circus

“We will never have animals in our shows. They are animals, not performers. They should be in the jungle.”
~ Pierre Parisien, Cirque du Soleil

I posted the following as my Facebook status the other day:

If you're in Greater Lansing and you plan on patronizing the Shrine Circus (which is in town from January 10 to 13), please let me know so I can unfriend you immediately. Animal abuse isn't cool.

Why did I post this? Because a cursory Google search turned up the following information about traditional circuses like Shrine:

Animals are trained to do unnatural acts like headstands using negative reinforcement methods with bullhooks (a long pole with a metal hook on the end, used to beat and jab elephants’ sensitive skin), whips, electric prods and other cruel devices. Elephants are not allowed to socialize, and when not performing, are kept chained in a small area with little room to move.

Shrine Circus exhibitors have been cited over the years for dozens of abuses, including failure to provide veterinary care, shelter from the elements, nutritious food or clean water, as well as failure to handle animals in a way preventing them from trauma and harm.

Not only did I find heaps of disappointing information about Shrine’s mistreatment of elephants, chimpanzees, bobcats, tigers and bears, but I learned that circus proceeds don’t actually fund the 22 nonprofit Shriners Hospitals for Children located throughout North America like I thought:

These annual circuses are held as fundraisers for the fraternal group, but proceeds from Shrine Circuses often benefit Shrine Temple operations only. The Shriners may announce in small writing on tickets that proceeds do not benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children and contributions or gifts to the Shrine Circus are not tax deductible as charitable contributions.

New York Times examination of Shrine records found that more than 57 percent of the $32 million raised in 2005 through circuses, bingo and other fundraising events went to Shriner activities and temple expenses. Only 2 percent of the Shrine hospitals' operating income comes from money raised by Shrine temples.

I don’t remember visiting a traditional circus. I’m not sure if my mother was taking a stand against animal abuse or she just didn't want to aggravate my childhood allergies. (I did visit the Detroit Zoo once when I was very little; I remember sitting in an outdoor amphitheater and watching monkeys in pink tutus riding tricycles in circles and blowing horns. I’m pretty sure they don’t do that anymore.) Since my natural father seldom paid child support, maybe we just couldn’t afford it. I like to think my mom wanted to spare me from having to witness clueless circus employees subjugating and demeaning glorious and majestic animals, stealing their dignity and compelling them to do stupid tricks under threat of violence.

I respect the historical significance of the traditional circus – the opportunities for employment and escape that it offered, the skill of its acrobats and ringmasters, the lure of its freaks, the distraction it provided, the excitement and wonder it brought to generations of kids – but like videocassettes, martini lunches, Atari and the AMC Gremlin, its time has come and gone.

The animal-free Cirque du Soleil has come to Breslin Center, just six miles from my house, several times. I promised the kids that I’d take ‘em next time this circus comes to town. I urge you to do the same.

Click here for a list of animal-free circuses.

Sources:, PETA,, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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