Making animals perform in public is inhumane and outdated. It’s time to fold up the circus tents for good | Opinion

March 29, 2019 6:00 am

By Melissa Shusterman

In the past few years, Pennsylvania has made admirable strides toward improving the lives of animals. Among other things, we’ve cracked down on the puppy mill industry, strengthened animal-cruelty laws and now allow police and other public safety professionals to rescue pets locked in hot cars.

 Unfortunately, many animals in Pennsylvania are still neglected, and suffer regularly from mistreatment and abuse — namely, the wild animals that are forced to entertain the public in circuses and traveling shows.

These animals live a life of constant confinement and misuse. They don’t perform because they want to, they perform because they are forced to, often through physical torture and mental anguish. Many of them live their entire lives and die never having seen anything other than the inside of a cage, boxcar, truck trailer, or circus tent.

 Public scrutiny and an increasingly enlightened understanding of the physical and mental suffering circus animals endure have forced some larger circuses to shut down for good (Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and Cole Bros.), and eliminated animal acts in others (Circus Vazques and Kelly Miller Circus).

But hundreds of smaller circuses are still traveling and operating in the U.S. The animals trapped in these circuses suffer away from media scrutiny and, too often, free from meaningful oversight. 

The “care and training” these wild animals endure for the benefit of our entertainment too often amounts to little more than ritualized abuse and torture, as they are carted from town to town, restricted to small, unnatural enclosures and punished with malnourishment, beatings and other physical and mental torture. 

Most Americans understand that wild animals should not be kept and treated this way. Some states have already started to act.

Recently, New Jersey passed a ban on using many species of wild animals in traveling shows, and Hawaii prohibits the import of wild animals for such use.

It’s time to end this traveling spectacle of inhumane cruelty and animal mistreatment in Pennsylvania.

I have introduced legislation that would ban the transport of wild animals, such as elephants, tigers and lions, bears, primates, kangaroos, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, zebras, seals, sea lions, and sharks, for public performances. The bill would not impact permanent and educational installations such as zoos, wildlife refuges and animal parks.

This is not just an animal-cruelty issue, it’s also a public safety issue.

Wild animals are unpredictable, and that makes their use for public entertainment risky. Since 1990, hundreds of people have been injured by wild animals used in circuses and other traveling shows.

At a time when more entertainment options than ever are available to us, the primitive practice of taking wild animals out of their natural habitat, carting them from place to place on trucks and trains, and forcing them to perform for our entertainment against their will is inhumane and outdated.

It’s time to put a stop to it.

State Rep. Melissa Shusterman, a Democrat, represents the 157th House District, which includes parts of Chester and Montgomery counties. She writes from Harrisburg.

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