The Circus Is No Place For Animals by Dena Ventrudo

“Sink that hook into ’em. When you hear that screaming, then you know you got their attention.” Tim Frisco

Ringling Bros. keeps the elephants in large, heavy-duty chains for most of their lives. One of the only times the elephants are not in chains is when they are displayed to the public, such as during the Open House and the actual performances. This has been confirmed by several former Ringling Bros. employees who say the elephants are not only chained continuously, but spend much of this time standing in their own feces and urine.I’m sure a majority of those reading this article have been to a circus at least once in their lifetime. My mother and my grandmother took me to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden when I was five years old.

What a majority of those enjoying the circus don’t know about, is how the elephants and other animals are treated and trained behind closed doors. What’s even more horrifying, is that the trainers and owners of these animals passionately try to justify that their abusive actions are the only way to train such large animals.

“Hurt ‘em! Don’t touch ‘em. Make ‘em scream!” -Tim Frisco

I recently attended an anti-animal circus protest where I spent hours handing out papers stating the truth about the severely abusive conditions animals are exposed to and how elephants, specifically, are brutally trained. We reached a lot of people and I hope to reach many more.

BullhooksElephants, whether privately owned or owned by a circus, are often trained with bullhooks. Bullhooks, pictured to the right, are sticks with what is essentially, a meat hook at the end. This hook is sunk into the elephants’ skin during training over and over again, causing them great amounts of pain and suffering.

“Tear that foot off! Sink it in the foot!”-Tim Frisco

Circus elephants also spend most of their lives in chains. Elephants are migratory animals, who require 20-50 miles a day to walk. Restricted living spaces lead to foot disease and arthritis, common problems with captive elephants. Decayed foot pads and joint problems can result from standing on inappropriate flooring. (Elephant Sanctuary)

“Tear it off! Make ‘em scream!”-Tim Frisco

I had the displeasure of meeting the man who privately owns the elephants that performed at the circus we were outside of. We were there peacefully, and were met with much positive feedback from passers by and police officers alike.

When he introduced himself as the owner of the elephants, a member of our group asked him if he was responsible for abusing them with bullhooks. He laughed at us condescendingly and shouted that we were “deluded and misguided”, continuing to shout over anything we tried to ask him.

When I was finally able to calm him down, I asked him to tell us his side of the story. I said, if we are as “misguided and deluded” as he accuses, to please tell us some truth and help us understand what falsehoods we have taken to heart.

I calmly listened, having to quiet everyone down because he continued to shout. I calmly listened, as my blood boiled with anger and heartbreak. But I knew if I let my passion show, it would hinder our progress.

Photograph by Dena VentrudoI asked him if he did or did not use bullhooks to train his elephants. He passionately and proudly exclaimed he did and started to yell at me again. I stated that I was just trying to understand.

I politely asked him to please explain why.

He stated that is was the absolute only way to train an animal that large. He stated that you “cannot put a chain or leash around their neck like a dog.” He also explained to me that he had be working with elephants long before I was even a “twinkle in your father’s eye” and that bullhooks have been used to train elephants for centuries.

He asked me to look him in his eyes. I did. They were an icy blue.

He said that he loves his elephants as he loves his children.

I told him to look me in the eyes. He did.

I asked him if he used a bullhook to potty train his children.

He turned his back, huffing and puffing.

I don’t think he appreciated my sarcasm.

Photograph by Dena VentrudoHe was a very difficult man to interview, as he continued to verbally lash out at my friends, and lacked in rationale. He could not hold a conversation without making accusations against every single person who has ever opposed his line of work.

He tried to tell me that the “animal rights movement was hurting animals” more than it was helping them.

I resisted the urge to articulate exactly how I felt about all of this, and listened to his story until he finally left us alone, having his ego fed and thinking maybe one of us had really listened and changed.

I did really listen. I did change. My heart broke into a thousand little pieces. I changed, because a piece of me died on that median in the hot sun that day, knowing he was going to take them home and hurt them again and again with a clear conscience.

Hear me when I say, that it takes a very special kind of person, to have the ability to sink a metal hook into the body of any living being. It takes a special kind of person, to truly believe he can justify tearing apart an innocent creature physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Since when did the value of life decrease so dramatically that it became acceptable to use a bullhook on an innocent animal?

Elephants are incredibly intelligent animals. We can train mice and dogs to do tricks through positive reinforcement, without using a bullhook. Why is it “impossible” to train a much more intelligent species without one?

“Don’t touch ‘em. Hurt ‘em!” -Tim Frisco

Photograph by Dena VentrudoWe applaud trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns, tightrope walkers, and acrobats, but let’s leave animals in peace. Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, and Singapore have all banned or restricted the use of animals in entertainment– it’s time for the U.S. to do the same.

All I ask of you is to please stop going to animal circuses. There are lots of other things to do. You can go to the park, the movies, get ice cream, go to a wild life preserve, the options are endless!

Below are links to websites that inform in more detail the abuse that circus animals receive as well as a list of non animal circuses.

Thank you.

Dena Ventrudo

Note* This can be upsetting to watch, so please be forewarned. Click here t o watch the video of the Ringling Bro’s trainer, Tim Frisco, teaching other trainers how to use bullhooks, fear, and domination.

To read about the life of a circus animal, click here.

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by Dena Ventrudo
Dena Ventrudo is the Assistant Editor of Merlian News. She is a published poet and creative writer, most recently published in Trails ThroughThe Greenbelt by Jack M. Freedman. She has a BA from SUNY Purchase College.