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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 21 July 2006 Issue

PETA GOES WILD; Wants dictionary to jump through hoops

Wants dictionary to jump through hoops

PETA activists are cracking the whip on Springfield-based Merriam-Webster, demanding that the definition of ``circus'' be rewritten to label the big top as cruel to ``captive'' animal performers.

The dictionary currently defines a circus as ``an arena often covered by a tent and used for variety shows, usually including feats of physical skill, wild animal acts, and performances by clowns.''

But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - known for caging naked women to protest the wearing of fur and protesting the living conditions of pet store iguanas - wants a new entry.

PETA's proposal defines a circus as a ``spectacle that relies on captive animals'' who are ``forced to perform tricks under the constant threat of punishment.'' It also wants the definition to say that ``modern circuses include only willing human performers.''

The dictionary publishing company couldn't be reached last night, but, in a letter to Merriam-Webster provided to the Herald, PETA points out that ``whips, chains, muzzles, and bullhooks are the standard tools used to train and constantly control animals used in circuses.''

``The sight of these weapons makes the animals perform out of sheer terror,'' the letter states.

The letter also refers to undercover investigations that have revealed squalid conditions for circus animals as well as animals being mercilessly beaten by trainers. PETA says attendance is down at traditional shows like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus while crowds at human-based performances like Cirque Du Soleil are at an all-time high. A Ringling spokesman did not return a call.

``People who use your dictionary deserve an accurate description of this cruel business, and we hope that you'll consider our suggestion,'' the PETA letter states.

Circuses that feature trained animals are banned in six countries and more than 300 U.S. cities and towns, including Revere. A pending State House bill to prohibit exotic animals in Massachusetts circuses is expected to go to a Senate vote this year.

``As more and more people become aware of the cruelty and violence that goes on behind the scenes at circuses, we felt the definition needed to be updated,'' said PETA spokesman Matthew Rice.

Merriam-Webster routinely updates definitions, frequently considering public input.

SIDEBAR: War of the words

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is seeking to change the dictionary definition of the word ``circus'' to reflect the alleged cruelty and abuse to animal performers.

Current Webster's definition:

circus - n. An arena, often enclosed in a tent or building for performances by acrobats, trained animals, clowns, etc.

PETA's proposed definition:

circus - n. Historically, a spectacle that relies on captive animals who are torn from their families and friends in savannahs, rainforests, or deserts and transported in chains; tiny, barren cages; or train cars from city to city. They are forced to perform painful, confusing, unnatural, and frightening tricks under the constant threat of punishment with whips, bullhooks, or electric prods. Modern circuses include only willing human performers, such as acrobats, contortionists, fire-eaters, trapeze artists, trick cyclists, and clowns.

source: [email protected]

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