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May 13, 2009 > Ohlone Humane Society: That's Entertainment?

Ohlone Humane Society: That's Entertainment?

By Nancy Lyon

When our daughter was young we did all the things usually considered fun and amusing for children.

The circus was bright, musical and had exotic animals, the zoo with its often fierce and amazing captive creatures, and the fairs and western style events were just something you enjoyed and then went home... did we ever consider what it was like for the animals? Occasionally, there was a discomforting twinge of conscience but we really never asked that question... after all everyone went and perhaps we just didn't want to think about it.

As a self-declared animal lover, it was some years later that I had a bit of an epiphany... if I didn't care about the treatment of all animals then I really only cared about "some animals"... my personally selected few. There are our "pets" that we hopefully care about and then there are the "others" those that we have little or no contact with, that we distance ourselves from. Little thought is given to the fact that we share with them the same capacity to feel, think and suffer.

As youngsters, somewhere along the line we learned that since we have power over animals then it somehow follows that we have the right do what we will with them. Did we understand that wild animals such as tigers, bears and elephants whether wild-caught or bred often suffer stress, substandard care, isolation and occasionally intentional abuse when forced to perform in ways totally unnatural to their nature. Or consider that wild animals such as elephants and primates possess a highly developed emotional complexity and that it is very difficult to satisfy their social and psychological needs in a captive setting.

The truthful answer to that is we just didn't think, we took our pleasure and went home while the animals were forced to continue lives of frustration and deprivation. Then we wonder what happened when some break under the strain and run amok killing and injuring people.

One of the biggest crowd-pleasing, money generating attraction at zoos is each year's spring crop of charming baby animals. But do most of us stop to think where last year's attractive little critters have gone? There's just so much space and zoos are essentially businesses... simply put... in most cases it's out with the old and in with the new. While some are lucky enough to make it to real sanctuaries, too many end up in the infamous canned hunts, in sleazy roadside zoos and photo shoots, or second-rate "sanctuaries," and even on the dining tables of some exotic food restaurants.

Having spent many years of my early life in the horse world, around racing stables and on the horse show circuit, I know firsthand that when it comes to animal welfare both have been romanticized. The racing industry is guilty of using drugs to allow injured or disadvantaged horses to race, racing physically immature horses whose bones and bodies are not ready for racing; add to that the use of whips and prods and it's not such a pretty picture. When horses broke down from injury or didn't win, most were what is charmingly called "chickened," or sent to slaughter... a cruel and tragic end for such noble and beautiful creatures.

During that period we participated at horse shows on the California county fair circuit. These usually included rodeo events as part of the show. I have to tell you... no matter how it is fictionalized as wholesome entertainment... rodeo is tough and often cruel on animals forced to participate. I didn't like watching but when forced to and close up to the action I've seen many rodeo animals severely injured or animals hauled off on a drag to die out of view while the announcer soothed the audience with "not to worry folks, she's only stunned." Nowadays a veterinarian is either supposed to be on-call or present to treat or quickly kill injured animals but again that law isn't always strictly enforced.

I've always felt it might not be so bad if they took away the electrical prods - now illegal in California except as protection from Injury to humans but still commonly used - the sharp spurs used to force the animals to quickly move out of the holding chute to get away from the torment, the bucking rig or flank strap that is jerked tightly around the animal's genital area - I have to say I never quite understand the idiotic and insulting explanation that it's only like a padded belt... holding up what? If it's only a belt, why bother? Would you guys wear a tight irritating belt in that location?

Take those instruments of abuse away and you wouldn't have much of an action show, couple of bucks and the animal would trot out of the arena and the make-believe Old West fantasy of the violent and wild, bucking bronco or bull is shot down forever. The thirst for violence seems to not come from the animals but the willing participants and onlookers.

It seems that so many humans want their fun and entertainment and don't want to think about the true cost of their momentary pleasure. I think that once you become aware of the real nature of events such as these, you bear a tremendous burden of guilt if you continue to attend. As the old truism says "With knowledge comes responsibility" and perhaps if you have a belief system... there's accountability.

The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo...We need a boundless ethic which will include the animals also.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer

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