"Those PETA people come out every year and beat up on us. But they don't seem to make any difference. They're like flies at a picnic." That's what Barry Hartman, speaking for the Western Montana Shrine Club and circus, said in a recent Independent article (see "Circus sparks controversy," April 25). He is wrong on three counts: many of us aren't PETA members; our peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights is for animals, not against Shriners; and globally, activists working to end circus animal cruelty are making a difference. Great Britain is the latest country to impose a full or partial ban on circus animal acts. A sponsoring Parliamentarian said, "This is a victory for animal welfare and common sense—and proves that politicians who have belief, stick to their principles and persevere despite hostile opposition, can still shape events."
Those words also apply to ordinary, compassionate citizens who stand up for animals by reaching out to circus-goers with the truth. And like flies at a picnic, we're persistent and plentiful.
Eyewitness accounts from attendees at one Saturday performance maintained that an uncooperative tiger was hit in the head with a whip handle. Broken elephants were also forced to give rides to paying customers. Yet Missoula County Public Schools endorses this abuse by distributing circus tickets to students. The trustees heard our testimony at their March board meeting. They were asked to reconsider the practice, or to distribute an age-appropriate informational piece along with tickets. No response was forthcoming. The University of Montana's Adams Center capitalizes on circus cruelty. Given our increased understanding of animal sentience and the egregious mental and physical suffering inherent in traveling circuses, it's time to start asking these institutions: "Why?"
No one denies the Shriners' philanthropy. But harming one species to help another is uncharitable—and unnecessary. When they offer an animal-free circus, I'll gladly purchase a ticket.