Stamping Out Cruelty
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Jill Howard-Church, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
May 2014

So what leaves me so chagrined is that now, the general public will see these stamps and take them as a stamp of approval for circuses in general and Ringling in particular. They'll reason that if the circus was that bad, surely the Postal Service wouldn't be commemorating it, would they? After all, we reserve stamp honors for historical icons like Rosa Parks, and respected scenes from Americana like national parks. You won't see old minstrel show posters on stamps, and for good reason.

On a recent visit to the post office, I was aghast to see an ad for a set of newly issued stamps "commemorating" vintage circus posters. The images specifically advertise the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and in addition to the old-time clowns and acrobats, they depict growling tigers and festooned elephants, and snarling tigers riding elephants.

postage stamps circus
click to enlarge

I'm sure the clerk, who was quietly calculating my postage, thought I was nuts when I kept repeating, out loud to myself, how awful the stamps were. "How could they do that?" I said. "What were they thinking?" What seemed so obvious to me was lost on her.

She, like the many thousands of patrons who will see these stamps in post offices for months to come, is probably unaware of how circuses treat their animals, or who may think such charges are dubious or a matter of opinion or exaggerated by those gosh-darn radical animal activists who spoil everyone's fun.

She probably didn't recall the 2009 federal court case that exposed Ringling's behind-the-scenes treatment of animals (but whose judge ruled that animal defenders had no standing in court, thus gutting the case).

She might have missed the 2011 news story that noted how the U. S. Department of Agriculture fined Ringling $270,000 for animal welfare violations, or not have paid attention to protests and undercover videos on television, or read news reports from former circus employees at Ringling and elsewhere. Had she even heard how some municipalities (Los Angeles being the most recent) have banned the use of bullhooks and therefore the circuses that use them as weapons against elephants? Clearly the U.S. Postal Service doesn't know or doesn't care.

Many people have learned about animal-based circuses and now boycott them, but having seen the hundreds of people who still line up to see circus shows in my town, I know how many more people remain uneducated or unconvinced, and thus the show goes on.

So what leaves me so chagrined is that now, the general public will see these stamps and take them as a stamp of approval for circuses in general and Ringling in particular. They'll reason that if the circus was that bad, surely the Postal Service wouldn't be commemorating it, would they? After all, we reserve stamp honors for historical icons like Rosa Parks, and respected scenes from Americana like national parks. You won't see old minstrel show posters on stamps, and for good reason.

Perhaps the 12-member Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, the body that approves stamp designs, needs some more education about animal abuse. In 2001 the Postal Service issued wonderful stamps urging spaying and neutering, so clearly somebody back then knew a positive message when they saw it. Shame on those who didn't know better this time.

I still remember the days when you had to lick stamps to get them to stick. Now it seems that in order to lick offensive stamps, animal advocates need to stick some letters in the mail straight back to postal headquarters.

Which, if you're asking, is the U. S. Postal Service, Stamp Development, 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300, Washington, DC 20260-3501.


Return to Animal Rights Articles