When I was growing up I always wanted to go to, but never managed to go to the circus. My dreams of the circus were filled of images that I saw in books that I read — the elephant parades, the lion tamer, the tigers and monkeys, not to mention the plethora of acts involving clowns, trapeze artists, acrobats, and the like. I would on occasion get a box of animal crackers with the standard animals from the circus and enjoy munching on them when thinking about how much fun it must be to be that lion, getting the opportunity to perform in front of so many people every year. It was at a certain point, growing up, that I found out how badly the animal performers are treated.

Ever wonder how circuses manage to get the animals to perform so well? Animals do not perform the acts you see in the circus naturally. They have to be trained, often by extreme methods. They are traumatized in to obeying their human ‘trainers” commands. Bull hooks are often driven in to the tender areas of an elephant’s body to make it cooperate. Electric shock, whips, baseball bats and pipes are also among the methods used to force the animals to cooperate in training. Some animals are kept muzzled to subdue them and discourage them from defending themselves if they feel threatened. Some animals are drugged to make them manageable and some have their teeth removed. Some bears have had their paws burned to force them to stand on their hind legs.

I naively thought that bears were taught to stand on their hind legs by, for example, being rewarded with honey for properly standing on their hind legs — not by having their paws mutilated.

The parts of the circus act where animals are whipped by trainers in front of the audience seems almost the most cruel. I realize that animals surely don’t necessarily have the same kind of sense of shame that people do but there must be some humiliation in getting whipped like that and not being able to do anything about it.

I am glad that the first time I really went to the circus it was Cirque du Soleil and there were no animals involved whatsoever — it was all about the talent of the human beings who willingly put themselves through the training and were well compensated and never tortured in return for performing beautifully in front of the audience, night after night.

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