Animal Defenders of Westchester

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We advocate on all animal protection and exploitation issues, including experimentation, factory farming, rodeos, breeders and traveling animal acts.

Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Animal-free circuses good for them and for us


OpEd article in THE JOURNAL NEWS  "Community View"
(Original publication: September 18, 2004)

(The writer is spokesperson for Animal Defenders of Westchester.)

Two years ago, The Journal News reported on our successful effort to get an ordinance in the Town of Greenburgh that would restrict traveling animal acts on public property ("Send back the clowns," May 23, 2002). In the next few weeks we will be meeting with Westchester County legislators and the parks commissioner with the intention of installing this ordinance countywide.

In the last few years alone, several animal act-related incidents that jeopardize public safety have occurred, most notably:

The mauling of Roy Horn, of Seigfried and Roy, when a tiger he'd worked with several times bit his throat and dragged him off stage in Las Vegas. Other Seigfried and Roy trainers then revealed several instances of tiger attacks during "training." Horn remains under a doctor's care.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the request of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, launched an investigation of Liebel Family Circus after PETA reported that an elephant injured a circus worker.

An elephant escaped the ring at a Royal Hanneford Circus performance in Poughkeepsie in 1999, charging into several rows of audience chairs.

On July 31, 2002, a tiger escaped from the New Cole Brothers Circus in Queens, causing two collisions involving five cars, resulting in minor injuries to five people.

An attorney has served Westchester County with a "Notice of dangerous condition of action." This legal notice, similar to a pothole notice, establishes Westchester's liability if it grants a permit to "a traveling show of wild animals including tigers, bears and elephants, which pose serious dangers such as mauling, goring, impaling and trampling to the public and performers, leading to property damage, serious injuries and/or death; in addition, emotional and psychological distress from witnessing said actions, other health risks include the possibility of contracting diseases such as tuberculosis from the animals."

What that means to Westchester County is this: If animal act-related lawsuits pour in, property taxes may be negatively affected. Is it worth it for an hour of supposed "fun"?

Our concern isn't just for public safety: In nature, bears don't ride bicycles, elephants don't stand on their heads, and a tiger would never hop on his hind legs. To force wild animals to perform confusing acts, trainers use whips, muzzles, electric prods and bullhooks. In their real homes, these animals would be free to raise their families, forage for food, and play together. Instead, the circus forces them to perform night after night, for 48 to 50 weeks every year. Between acts, elephants are kept chained, and tigers are "stored" in cages with barely enough room to take one step.

Ringling has also invented a "unicorn" by mutilating a baby goat surgically moving his horns to the center of his forehead.

In the circus arena, elephants perform such acts because they are forced to; trainers carry bullhooks with them to direct the elephants and make them do what is required. Such hooks are harmful, but often are designed so they cannot be seen by circus-goers. Does an elephant stand on her head for a peanut? Would you?

The Journal News, on Aug. 2, reported on the audience's enjoyment and appreciation of the animal-free Moscow State Circus in Westchester.

Dangerous, archaic, abusive traveling animal acts have no place in a progressive, dynamic and enlightened Westchester; indeed, they never did.

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