What About Domestic Animals in Circuses?
Abusive training and constant confinement in circuses apply to domestic animals as well as exotic animals. And while horses and ponies are among the most commonly used animals in circuses, they receive the least protection, as they are excluded from the regulation under the Animal Protection Act. Positive reinforcement alone will not compel any animal to follow commands to perform the types of complex maneuvers in the typical circus routine - day after day, hundreds of times a year. There will be days when an animal does not feel well or, for whatever reason, does not wish to perform. Because circuses have to satisfy paying customers, trainers cannot afford to let an animal "get away with" a poor performance. The consequences of failure are swift and painful.
Among the complaints that constitute cruelty to domestic animals, reported to PETA by circusgoers and whistleblowers, are these:
- Doves were "kicked like soccer balls."
- Horses were punched in the face and severely whipped.
- Dogs were only fed when they performed properly and were skin and bones under their fur.
- Dogs, starved for affection, were left in crates whenever they were not performing.
- Dogs were hit.
- Cats, obviously reluctant and fearful, were forced to jump from high platforms onto small pillows.
- Trainers who appeared to be petting dogs during the show were really inflicting a painful pinch.
- Alligators had their teeth filed down and were insufficiently fed in order to keep them weak and easy to manipulate.
- In 1998, eight severely malnourished ponies used for pony rides by Sterling & Reid Circus were confiscated by authorities from a filthy trailer. The operators were charged with cruelty to animals.
- In 2000, the owner of a pony ride operation and petting zoo was charged with 39 counts of cruelty to animals after more than 300 animals, including two horses who were in such a weakened state that they had to be euthanized, were seized from his New York home.
- Also in 2000, authorities in St.Tammany Parish, Louisiana, found 10 horses, who had been used for pony rides at parties, abandoned without water, food, or shelter and in need of veterinary care. One horse had recently died, and another had been "reduced to skeletal remains," according to authorities.
- Once they are no longer useful, these exhausted ponies, who have been dominated and deprived their entire lives, are typically sent to slaughter or abandoned.
Horses and ponies are gregarious animals - extremely social. After being unloaded from their horse boxes or transporters they are often confined in tents, separated from their companions by stalls, which do not allow socialising or mutual grooming. Often horse will be tethered or kept in tiny pens for the entire time they are not performing or rehearsing. If exercise enclosures are provided, these are generally very small - it is unlikely a horse would gallop or really exercise in one. Behavioral abnormalities have been observed in circus horses.
Although, performing dogs could be kept as pets, living with a presenter, they are often kept in cages on tour or tied up when they are not performing.