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Norwich Bulletin - 8/8/2004

The Circus Comes To Town

A lot of people email me and ask me why I never write against the circus. I have done columns against rodeos, cock and horse fighting, donkey basketball, and other "sports" I find hurtful to animals. But I have never openly criticized the circus and I have decided to go out on a limb and tell my readers why.

When I was a little girl the circus was still under the big tent. It was one of the most exciting days of the year for me. My mom would take me early because in those days you could go and feed the elephants, pet the horses and dogs and cats, and talk to the circus folk.

They also still had the side shows and we would ooh and aah over the strange phenomena such as the fire eater or the Siamese twins. My mother was a huge animal lover and we never felt that the animals were abused or unloved. They always appeared healthy, well fed and social. The circus folk would tell us that the animals were their livelihood and in order to be successful, they had to be well taken care of and want to perform.

The circus was magical to me - clowns, and trapeze artists - horses and lions and tigers; cotton candy and popcorn. Spending that day with my mom every year, was very special for me.

As I grew up and had children of my own, the circus changed. After the big tent fire, circuses were put on in coliseums. There were no extra shows and no-one got to see the animals outside the ring. I took my children, and it was still special to them, but I no longer had the feeling that everything was okay and that the animals were happy.

It was almost like being allowed to see into the magic, but no longer being able to be a part of it. While my children had nothing to compare to, I was very disappointed. But there were still the sights and smells and death defying acts and I wanted to give my children the same experiences that I had as a child. And since there is almost no similarities to the 50's and the present time, I guess I was grasping at straws.

When the American Humane Society and other animal organizations came out against the circuses, my children were already older and we had stopped going years before. But my friends were taking their kids and I was uncomfortable trying to convince them not to do something I myself had done.

After all, my children had already had the experience. In fact, as my two daughters got older they themselves started to question the treatment of the animals and opted not to go - I never made that decision for them or for myself and therefore, felt I could not influence the decision of others. I still feel that way.

I listen to the stories that are told about the maltreatment of the circus animals. I don't want to believe them - I want to remember the circus people from the 50's that introduced us to their animals by name and obviously loved them. I want to remember the wagging tails of the dogs and how they did not cringe when I went to pet them. I want to believe in the continued magic of the circus.

Although at this time in my life it is my personal decision not to attend a circus that has animal acts I wonder what I will do when I have a grandchild that asks me to take her to the circus? Will I be able to deny her that request? I don't know.

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