Animal welfare · Animals · circus

My Last Circus – Sentiments from the Big Top

Photo by Jana Greene
Photo by Jana Greene

By: Jana Greene

It would be my last circus.

I’d always loved the circus – everything about it. The popcorn and cotton candy, the distorted and loud fanfare music, the smell of sawdust in the enormous tent, and the animals. I especially loved the animals, garishly dressed in sequined headpieces that matched the tacky attire of their human counterparts. The animals – especially the elephants – always made my heart race.

But last year, the elephants only made my heart break.

I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but I knew in my heart of hearts that it would be the very last circus I’d  attend. I knew it for certain, because I couldn’t bear the pain on the animals’ faces. The elephants, in particular, with their intelligent eyes that don’t just reflect pain, but also the countenances of broken spirits. Listless, resigned, going through all of the motions. Misery in a spangled, over-sized tutu. I’ve felt the same way during times of depression in my life (okay, save for the spangled, over-sized tutu.) Despondency.

I had brought two of my teenaged daughters and the little girl of a friend of mine. What’s more wholesome than a day at the circus?

Our tickets had been free, and they were perfectly horrible, as free tickets usually are. We were seated in the staging area, where the animals tightly caged and lined up for the show. The tigers were the first to queue up – beautiful, majestic cats – trying to pace but without the space to do so, growling restlessly. Monkeys, camels, and then the elephants, who shifted from side to side and kept their heads low. And as each group of animals was led out, it just kind of became a parade of sadness. Glittery, festooned, and just incredibly sad.

Those animals didn’t belong there. The elephants, being the only animal besides humans to cry real tears, had rivulets of tears under their eyes by the end of the show. When my four-year-old guest asked to ride an elephant during intermission, I gave the attendant $5. As the child was being situated on the old beast, I mouthed “I’m sorry” to the pachyderm. And I meant it. I wanted to apologize to all of the animals. Have you ever just had blinders lifted off your eyes in an instant?

I knew it would be my last circus.

I do not for a minute believe that animals – even the cutest, fluffiest ones – are on equal standing as mankind. Nope. I believe that the Creator of the Universe gave us dominion over the animals. But you see, that’s where things get serious. Because having been given dominion over such creatures makes their proper care even more important. We are responsible for the way they are treated – each and every one of them. Some animals were given to us to feed our bodies, and some to keep us company.

And some to spend their lives beaten into submission living in tiny cages? No, I don’t think so.

I’m not an animal-rights whacko by any means  (what sense would that make in light of the frequency in which we humans dismember and kill our own kind in their mother’s wombs? But that’s a column for another day.)

I am a huge believer in NOT telling other people how to live their own lives. Give people rights and the law-abiding among us will not often abuse those rights.

I own guns. I don’t hurt anyone with those guns. I don’t drink alcohol, but I don’t deny other people the enjoyment a drink. I believe in religious freedom, but don’t belittle the religions of others. I’m not a vegan, but I support the right of those who choose that lifestyle. To each his own.

I’m not here to try to shut down the circuses, which are legal endeavors. Sometimes I think the best way to get the word out on important issues is not to stand at the entrance of a circus with posters of bleeding elephants in plain sight of children (how confusing for those kids,) but to go and sit in crappy, free seats and take time to look into the ancient eyes of a magnificent mammoth – to see that she doesn’t  belong there.

I’m just here to make you consider the possibility that ours are not the only feelings and lives that matter. That there are other forms of entertainment out there that do not originate with bull hooks and whips. That we not abuse the privilege of having dominion over these precious creatures.

What’s more wholesome than the circus? Just about everything.

We have the honor of having dominion over the animals, the responsibility. We owe it to them not care and protect them, by not forcing them into misery in a spangled, over-sized tutus for our own entertainment.

What majestic beasts God has given us responsibility for!

I pray we will learn to treat them with the respect they deserve.