Every dog or cat who makes us laugh or smile is entertaining us. Are you cruel and abusive? Will your animals be next and suffer the fate of the elephants, torn from their safe and loving homes and sent to mostly mythical preserves or what little is left of nature?
Because if you believe the entertainment and uplifting of people by animals is cruel, and your dogs make you laugh, then you are most likely a hypocrite, judging others from the soft cocoon of your computers and Facebook pages. And as the moral philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, the criminal confronts us with the perplexity of evil, but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.
If they can do it to the elephants and horses and ponies, they can do it to you and your dog or cat or parrot. You might console yourself with the idea that dogs and elephants are different, but in truth, the principle is very much the same. Like dogs, the Asian elephants have been working with people – and entertaining them – for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened," wrote Anatole France.
Gandhi said one can judge the moral character of a nation by the way it treats its animals. How can we awaken our souls and love animals if there are none around us to love and care for?
The true moral issue facing animal lovers is not how to keep animals from uplifting people, but how to make sure they always are here to uplift and entertain people.
That is our real challenge.
It is not to wipe out the work and way of life of animals and of the people who work with them. The moral failing comes when we sent them away without process or real cause to vanish or die and we devastate their people so that we can feel superior to others and good about ourselves.
Dozens of animals, including elephants tigers, camels, horses and llamas and goats will be in need of new homes by the time Ringling Brothers shuts down its circuses in May, reports Time Magazine. The circus says it is trying to place the animals in zoos and conservation centers.
And who, reading this, can tell me with certainty where a single one will go, or for how long?
The stories of the circus workers and elephant trainers are heartbreaking, the animal rights movement has just wiped out 800 jobs, destroyed a way of life that will vanish for good in the Corporate Nation. And is gleeful about it, as if it can be a great victory to hurt so many people.
"I wish everyone could see Otto," wrote one circus worker to me a few months ago. "He sleeps with his elephant sometimes, he has been weeping ever since he knew they would be separated, they have been together for 15 years. The idea that he would abuse her is just a crime in itself. It is unimaginable if you see them together. She loves to nuzzle against him. Will anyone ever tell Otto's story."
Probably not. The easier story is the one handed out by PETA. It's a juicy narrative. The circus people, like the New York carriage drivers, are evil abusers and deserve no concern or quarter.
The people celebrating the expulsion of the elephants from their circuses have not helped one elephant, or done one any good.They have done great harm to human beings.
They have disrupted their safe lives and greatly accelerated the almost certain extinction of these animals from the earth. The circus has not been convicted of animal abuse or neglect. They have won every lawsuit they faced.
There is no place for these elephants to go in nature or the wild, and the one place where they were safe and assured food and medical care and survival has been taken from them.
There is little left of their natural habit, ravaged by development, corruption, poaching and climate change. It is not humane to put a working animal on a preserve where they will atrophy and become disoriented for lack of activity and stimulation. It is traumatic for working animals to be taken away from the people who train and care for them.
Out of sight, they will have no oversight, no protections. We will never know what becomes of them, and soon, we will forget about them, condemning our children to a screen life free from animals or nature. The people who think circuses are cruel do not believe in zoos either.
Our descendants will never know what people and animals can do together, or how much they can love one another.
The elephants in the Ringling Brothers Circus were the lucky ones. A Mexican journalist contacted me recently, she is a former circus worker, she says there were more than 1,300 animals banned from circuses in Mexico and more than 1,000 of them have already gone to slaughter. That is the likely fate of most of the elephants and other animals in the circuses.
It costs $65,000 a year to feed, bathe and care for an adult Asian elephant. Much of the money to pay for their care comes from circus tickets, says the circus.
Ringling Brothers says it plans to care for the elephants for the rest of their lives, but cannot say how that care will be funded, and they cannot speak for the scores of other elephants being removed from circuses under pressure from animal rights organizations.
Ringling Brothers already has 26 elephants in their center, 11 of them recent refugees from their own circuses. It cannot take any of the others, believed to number well over a hundred. The company has no legal obligation to care for elephants at all, even the ones already living in their preserve.
I wonder as well how many good and well-funded homes there are for 18 Asian tigers.
"We are one giant family and a grieving family right now," said circus worker Christine in a message to me over the weekend. "I think we are starting down a very slippery slope that could force humans to give up owning pets in the not-too-distant future."
I have not seen a single circus worker or elephant trainer interviewed anywhere, even as animal rights officials line up to gloat about the loss of their jobs and way of life.
It's too bad, their stories are compelling and powerful. They remind us that the people in these stories are humans, not just fund-raising tools for animal rights groups.
The trainers are devastated to be separated from their elephants, many of whom were powerfully attached to them. The other circus workers are devastated to lose their very special way of life. It is especially cruel to remove working animals from their familiar environments and from the people who care for them. It is hardly a "liberal" or progressive action.
We are well down that slippery slope, Christine, the not too distant future is right at our doorstep. Just ask the pony ride operators, carriage horse drivers, many dog and cat owners and farmers all over the country. Ask the homeless man whose beloved companion dog was stolen from him and killed that very night by animal rights workers who decided it was not a good home. His pain and sorrow are great.
Or the elderly sisters whose cats were taken from them and face thousands of dollars in fines and the loss of their reason for living. Or the widow who couldn't adopt a dog because she had a low fence.
Christine understands something that many of the people cheering the end of the circus do not, that the elephants and other animals working with and for people are in danger now, along with many species of animals who are disappearing from our only world.
When the animal rights movement sought to ban the New York carriage horses, they were asked what would happen to the 200 horses that would lose their homes. Everyone single one, they promised, would go to an animal preserve. It was all taken care of.
They never named a single preserve that would promise to feed a single one of these huge draft horses for the rest of their lives. That is because there were none. The very idea was a lie.
The evocation of these mystical preserves soothe the consciences of people who see themselves as liberators of animals, but anyone who truly loves animals would want to know the who, when and where of it.
And the term "preserves" has no real meaning.
Preserves of all kinds in America are underfunded and many are small and have few resources.
There are long waiting lists for animals, the ones taken are usually old and sick, not young and healthy. Many of the carriage horses would have been slaughtered if the ban had been approved. More than 150,000 horses in America go to slaughter each year, there is simply no place for them to go. Why aren't they all on these alleged preserves?
Janet, who runs an animal preserve in Pennsylvania, laughed bitterly at the idea that she could take an elephant or a carriage horse. "First off, I don't take healthy and strong animals, they can go out and work, they are valuable. I take the lost cases, the sick and abused and starving ones, and I don't have anywhere near the money to feed an elephant or a horse. People hear "preserve," she said, "and they think of a big plain in Africa or the Disney Animal Kingdom. We wouldn't fit into one of their hotel lobbies and we beg for hay and feed money every month. Animals that are well cared for don't need preserves. They are lucky."
Why would it be easier to find life homes for huge elephants, who cost up to $800 a day just to feed? Or for tigers?
Christine has been arguing with her "liberal" friends for years about the elephants and has persuaded many of them that the elephants at Ringling Brothers are content and well cared for, and are not being abused. She has a harder time, she says, persuading them that animals should never be used as entertainment for people, as they have been throughout all of recorded history.
This is an important discussion to have, as it is a primary excuse for taking animals away from people, and destroying human lives and work. The idea that is cruel for animals to entertain people is an opinion, not a fact. If is, like anything else, open to argument.
There is absolutely no scientific or behavioral evidence of any kind that I know of that proves that animals suffer from entertaining people, there is much evidence to the country. Working animals love to work with people and seem to greatly enjoy entertaining them, as almost any large animal veterinarian, behaviorist or trainer will testify.
Many people believe that carriages horses hate pulling light carriages through Central Park, but people who actually know something about the big draft horses know better. The horses love – and need – the stimulation, exercise and attention they receive when they work, as opposed to languishing idly in fenced in areas for the rest of their lives. Famed horse trainer Buck Brannaman – The Horse Whisperer – says the carriage horses are the luckiest horses in the world. They almost died for it.
It is as easy to abuse animals with misplaced love as with sticks and kicks.
We need to know what we are talking about when we make decisions about animals.
Animals are disappearing from our world at a horrific rate, and people who say they are for the rights of animals are doing their best to speed up the process. Every animal we save is precious, every decision urgent.
"I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights," wrote Abraham Lincoln. "That is the way of a whole human being.”
But how can we be whole if there are no animals?
For me, the most urgent right of an animal is to survive in our world.
Every animal that uplifts or entertains a human being is a saved and rescued animal. Animals that interact with human beings and have value for them get to live, to survive, most of the others are dying off.
The first people in this world did not consider it wrong for animals to entertain people and lift them up. Nor did those many succeeding generations. This is a new idea, born from the movement that wishes to liberate animals from people. Suddenly, and in the late 1980's, it was declared that it was wrong for animals to entertain people. It was hard to imagine then that this would spell the end of the circus, an entertainment forum much loved all over the world.
The first cave drawings showed people playing with dogs and training wild animals. Animals brightened dark lives, then and beyond. From the beginning, they have helped us endure life in a difficult world.
Every dog and cat who makes us smile is entertaining us. My dogs and donkeys and sheep and barn cats make me smile and laugh and know joy every day of my life.
Does that make me cruel?
Should they and all the other dogs who make us laugh be banned and removed from our lives?, because our friend Christine is correct.
We have started out on that path, and we are already sliding down the slipperiest of slopes.