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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Greatest Show On Earth? Maybe Without Animals...

Now that school is out for summer, I imagine that many parents of children between the ages of four and eighteen are trying to figure out how to spend the next two months.

I know that in my family, it was pretty tough to keep all three of us kids occupied for very long.  My family didn't have a lot of disposable income readily available for vacations, so we never went to Walt Disney World, Hawaii, or even Niagara Falls.  As a result, practically all of our summer vacations were staycations. 

That said, the good thing about growing up in a small town was the fact that there were always a lot of summer activities to be found.  Especially in a small town that was situated about a half hour from a border crossing into the United States.

Now when I was younger, I remember being enrolled in a summer playground program where we played games, did arts and crafts, and learned about nature.  That was a period that lasted about six years, before the cost grew too expensive.

There were also local festivals such as our current town gathering celebration "RibFest", as well as past community events like "Riverfest" and "The Great Balloon Rodeo".  Even though these celebrations only lasted a total of a few days, they were jam packed with so much fun and excitement that you never got bored.

Oh, and don't forget about the occasional carnival and fair that would set up shop in town for a weekend or two.  I still have fond memories of chomping down on churros and sno-cones and then going on the Scrambler, hoping that somehow I would be able to keep the carnival food I just ate down.  Most of the time I succeeded, though I did have some close calls.

But one thing that I remember that I needed to do every summer was check and see when the circus was in town. 

For some reason, I always loved going to the circus when I was younger.  The circus was always such a place in which kids could really be kids, and where we could see dozens of different acts performing one right after another.

And, someone who really liked concession stands at summer events, I have to say that there was something special about circus food.  You could eat all the buttered popcorn and cotton candy you wanted so as long as you had the funds to pay for them.  I also seem to remember that the admission to get into the circus was fairly inexpensive - only a few bucks a ticket.  This made it affordable entertainment for the whole family!

I'm sure that anyone who has ever attended a circus has their favourite acts that they loved to see, and of course, I had my list.

While some people I know have a fear of clowns (most likely spawned by the Stephen King book and miniseries "It" where Tim Curry played the delightfully frightening Pennywise), I must admit that the clowns were always delightful at any of the circuses that I attended.  They were goofy, they juggled balls, they tripped over their own clown feet...and they mingled with the audience as well.  Oh, and they gave out colouring books and crayons at the end of each performance, so you had to love that!

I also found myself mesmerized by trapeze artists and tightrope walkers.  As a kid, I would not even dare to try it (heck, at 34, my fear of heights would definitely keep me from attempting it), but watching them soar gracefully through the air was always exciting.  It's a shame that my town never held one of those Cirque du Soleil performances because I think that I would have really enjoyed watching them when I was younger.

What else did I like at the circus?  Well, I have to say that anything involving a unicycle was always fun to watch, whether it was a juggler, clown, or even the ringmaster himself!  I could never hope to learn how to ride a unicycle myself, but I think it's fun when other people do it!

But there are some things about going to the circus that I didn't like.

One such attraction was the one that was featured in one of the three rings of the circus while the performances were going on.  For a small fee, kids and their parents could climb up on top of the back of an elephant and ride around on its back for a few minutes.  And certainly many kids really wanted the chance to ride on an elephant's back.

But I was never one of those kids.  In fact, the whole idea of riding on an elephant scared me.

It wasn't necessarily because of the height thing, though it certainly was one factor.  Elephants are huge animals and for someone who gets vertigo standing on a balcony, it wouldn't have been a very good experience.

But I also have heard lots of horror stories about people being killed when elephants snap and lose control inside of circus tents.  That also prevented me from wanting to ride an elephant.

And as I grew older, I thought a lot of the elephants...and how miserable they must have been.  Instead of being free to roam the wild, they were kept in captivity, their only purpose serving as an organic carnival ride.  No wonder some of the elephants snapped.

And you know, it wasn't just the elephants that made me sad.  It was all of the acts that used animals. 

I never liked the lion tamer part of the circus.  I always thought that some of the tamers who took part in the circus were needlessly cruel to the lions and tigers and bears (oh my) that were featured in some of the circuses that I attended.  Some of them even used whips to keep the animals in check, which I cringed at.  It didn't make any sense to me why they would have to resort to hurting the animals in order to make them behave.  Have you ever seen any instances in which domesticated animals became tamer because they were physically abused?  I can't think of any.

Here's the deal.  I am not an animal rights activist by any means.  I am not a member of PETA or any other organization that protects animals.  But I also fail to see how continuing to use animals in circuses can be a good thing.  It's not that kids are even learning about nature in any way.  It's not like you were watching an episode of "The Crocodile Hunter" in which a trained professional was handling animals in a safe and humane manner.  Instead, you have people who feel that whipping animals into shape for the purpose of entertainment is the best way to operate a circus.

And, I don't believe that to be the case at all.

Now that I'm older, I still love the idea of a circus - but I would probably go to a circus that didn't use animal acts in it at all.  As I pointed out throughout this piece, there are lots of circus acts that don't use animals at all, and they can still be just as entertaining and fun.  And, while I realize that not all circuses that do use animals in their acts are abusive towards them, I've seen enough circuses to know that the animals who are abused deserve better.

I suppose that argument could go towards some zoos and marine parks as well, but admittedly, I've not gone to many of those.  But circuses...well, they can still be fun without the animals.

Of course, that's just my two nickels on the subject.  

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