The World Animal Foundation reported this week that another large circus has decided to phase out it's elephants and elephant acts over the next few years. The language of the announcement was now familiar to me in it's narrowness and also for its lack of any thought or reference to the fact that most of the elephants are not being saved, but are being condemned to die.
There is, as is well known in the animal world, no place for them to go. We have destroyed their natural world, we are now destroying the only world they have left, and patting ourselves on the back for it. This is why I love animals, they are not like us.
In our new idea of animal rights, death is better than working with people or entertaining them.
And there is no regard for their glorious history with humans, for the holes being left in our hearts and theirs. We have lost any understanding of the real lives of animals, and we confuse this ignorance with compassion and humanity.
The foundation's language about the elephants was familiar, worth considering. "The public," says the announcement, "is rejecting the practice of separating baby elephants from their mothers and chaining and beating these sensitive, intelligent animals in order to force them to perform silly tricks."
I remember going to the circus when I was young, seeing for the very first time what people and animals could learn to do with one another. It was not a stupid trick to me, it changed my way of looking at the world.
Of course, if you do ten minutes of research online, you will quickly discover that babies are not always separated from their mothers, and most elephants are never chained or beaten. Many elephant trainers and handlers love elephants dearly, that's why they work with them, and they are devastated by the mindless rush to remove these amazing creatures from our world, rather than improving or altering their lives. There are other points of view, even if you never get to see them.
If babies need to stay with their mothers, then make it so. If elephants are being beaten – there is no documented evidence that this is so in modern circuses – then arrest the people who are beating them. Uplifting and entertaining people is the province of the smartest animals on the earth, not the dumbest, it is only in our curious time of moral inversion that we have come to see uplifting people and making them laugh is a crime, something to be banned, sneered at, stopped.
Elitism is the consciousness or arrogance or pride in belonging to a select or favored group, it is rife in the animal rights world, and especially in the campaign to remove domesticated animals from the every day lives of people. My border collie Red is a therapy dog, and he makes children in cancer wards laugh and he gets dementia patients in nursing homes to smile and cry with joy. Is this a stupid trick? Are dumb animals the only ones we should ever get to see and interact with? It is stupid to show the powerful connection animals have with people, and to see the wonderful impact they have had on us for all of human existence?
It is cruel to teach a border collie how to herd sheep? Or a seeing eye dog how to walk alongside a person who cannot see? Is that a stupid trick, or yet another example of cruelty and abuse? It is cruel to roll on the floor with a puppy, when he could be living in nature?
Is is cruel for a healthy working horse to pull a light carriage through Central Park, a beautiful space that was built for them? It is a stupid trick to carry lovers through the park, to enchant visitors with the beauty of New York, to permit children to see and touch and experience the wonder of the animals of the world, something they will never get to see in their lives if the horses are gone?
Elitism is evident in the dehumanization of the carriage drivers, who are told that driving a cab in the outer boroughs is the same as driving a carriage horse through Central park, whether they like it or not. In the mayor's refusal to visit the stables or meet with the drivers. In the discrimination in the animal rights community that makes is more and more difficult for the poor, the elderly, or the working class to adopt any of the millions of dogs and cats languishing in shelters.
And in the idea that it is stupid for animals to entertain or uplift human beings, one of the reasons, I believe, that they exist on the earth.
There is more than one way to look at stupid tricks, more than one way to stop and consider what we are doing to animals – we are driving them out of the everyday lives of people, we are removing them from our sight and from the world. We are making a dreadful mistake that can never be undone. We think we are stopping abuse and cruelty – "stupid tricks" – when we are, in fact, simply committing the final act of destruction for the animals that have always helped us work, build our world, help us to smile and laugh and feel better.
In my discussions about the animals and especially the horses, and lately the elephants, I ask the righteous and the smug one question: Where will these elephants go when they leave their work in the circus? No one has yet been able to answer me. No one seems to have thought about it, everyone is too busy feeling better than everyone else.
Our children will never know this miracle of nature once the elephants and the horses and the ponies and the sled dogs are gone. The elephants have no other place to go, no other work to do. We are exploiting them once again, this time to make us feel better about our sad and despoiled world.
How many people over time, I wonder, have seen their days brightened and their lives enriched by the "stupid tricks" of animals who work with people and know how to touch their souls. How many have connected to the natural world, to the earth, seen their imaginations aroused? Will children of the future experience this on Twitter and YouTube? Is sitting at a computer or riding in a vintage car the same thing as seeing an elephant in a circus or a carriage horse in New York?
We need to go the other way, to restore our connection with these wonderful creatures, to give them safe and healthy lives, work to do with us, meaning in their lives. We need to understand what abuse really is, and to wonder what is really stupid and what is really smart. These circus elephants are domesticated working animals, they have worked with people for thousands of years. Like border collies and carriage horses, they need to work, it is a part of their unique consciousness and genetics.
Doing stupid tricks can be just as noble as trumpeting in the vanished wild, if it gives them meaningful work, if it touches our hearts and lifts our spirits. There is nothing more natural than for humans and animals to live and work together, there is nothing crueler than taking them away from us and forcing them out of the world, especially in the name of love.
When the gloating and self-congratulations passes, we will all be poorer and sadder for their loss. They will leave behind holes in our hearts that can never be filled.