Tag Archives: circus

The Great Benjamin’s Circus

The circus came to town last Friday. The Great Benjamin’s Circus at the Princess Louise Park in Sussex. Catching sight of a circus tent with lights flashing and flags flying – all the ‘adulting’ I was in town to do went right out of the window. Errands would get done, after the circus, whenever.Great Benjamin's Circus tent-plp-sussex-nb-photo-d-stewart

One ring under canvas. Settle in, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and enjoy the show.

Let the show begin

hula-hoops-photo-d-stewartA juggler, a hula hoop lady, a dog act of Standard Poodles, Spaniels, Terriers and one scene-stealing Chihuahua. Fire eaters, a contortionist, aerialists with hoops and silks. Clowning, rope twirling with nerve-rattling audience participation. Motorbikes circling in a steel cage. Sitting near the cage, I watched a crew member circling the outside of it throughout the performance ensuring all the bolts were staying tight.motorbike-cage-photo-d-stewart

I took pictures early on but then just watched and held my breath at the feats of wonder. Cheered and clapped. More photos toward the end, no flash of course. Who would want to be responsible for distracting a performer for even a nanosecond?

It was a capacity crowd for the late afternoon show. The evening performance would likely be overflowing. The front of house people must have agreed with that assessment. While we were leaving, an announcement was made: another performance had been added after the 7 p.m. one. Outside the tent, an enormous line of people waited to get in.great benjamin's circus dogs-photo-d-stewart

So late in the night, after three performances, the circus would pack up and head off for the next day’s shows in Moncton. It’s not a long drive, but another long day would follow for performers and crew. Not unusual for them, I’m sure.circus in lights photo-d-stewart

According to their website, The Great Benjamin’s Circus is based in the US and Mexico. They play the small towns of North America, all through the year by the looks of the schedule. I am very happy they came to my small town. I looked at the faces of the kids as they were leaving the show. Awestruck. I wondered if, like me, they were thinking about running away with the circus.

Water for Elephants

water for elephants dvd amazon link
Click to buy on Amazon

(from 2011*) In the past week, I’ve been sent two Facebook requests to boycott the film Water for ElephantsADI (Animal Defenders International) says that Have Trunk Will Travel, trainers of the elephants in the film, use abusive methods.  This contradicts the trainers’ statement that they only use positive reinforcement.

I watched the 2005 video ADI provided, and I think I don’t know enough about elephants to know.   I went to Sara Gruen’s website.  She wrote the novel on which the movie is based.  She is a supporter of animal welfare and several specific animal sanctuaries.  While the author of the original material may not have much say over the movie production, having read her other novels, I couldn’t Tai, in ADI videoimagine Ms. Gruen not caring about the animal stars of a work in which she’s got a vested interest.  But I still don’t know.

I don’t think the trainers did themselves a favour by saying they only use reward-based training methods.  No way electric prods look like positive reinforcement.  But used in conjunction with reward?  Necessary for effectiveness and safety?  I don’t know.  I do know that they and bull hooks do not look nice.  But the appearance of something shouldn’t Tai lifting Sara Gruenbe the sole criterion for judging it.  Lots of things don’t look nice, but there may be valid reasons for their use.  Also, anything can be an instrument of cruelty if used incorrectly or to deliberately inflict pain.  A dog’s leash, a horse’s reins.

Two things this controversy made me think about:

1.  Shock collars.  Many trainers condemn their use, saying they’re just a lazy way to train a dog.  Other trainers sell them to people (I got a Shock_collar-Polymath38-Wikicommonssalespitch on their virtues when talking to a trainer about my dog’s poop-eating habit.)  I know a barky dog who can live happily in an apartment building because she wears an electrified “bark collar” when left alone.  Without it, I don’t know what would happen.  But the bottom line is, those collars administer shocks of varying intensity to dogs.  And electric shock is not only used for retraining bad behaviour.  “Invisible fencing” relies on a shock if the dog gets too close to the boundary.  It’s selling like hotcakes.

2.  When learning to ride, my teacher told me “kick him” when my horse would not move forward with just verbal clucks.  I kicked a bit.  “Harder” she yelled, “kick him like you mean it.”  I couldn’t.  I felt I was betraying our friendship by kicking him.  She told me to watch the horses in the field and see what they do to each other.  I did, and sure enough, I watched ‘my’ horse give his best friend a big old kick when Spurs_western_lostinfog-wikicommonshe got too near the hay.  There is no way I could ever kick as hard as he did.

When I learned to kick, he looked back at me like “ok, you’re learning horse language now!”  I learned to use spurs, a riding crop and a longe whip.  I try to keep my hands steady. Reins jerking ‘giddyup’ style does cause a horse pain.  With me knowing proper use of equipment, we began riding as a team.

All methods of control and training can be abused and therefore cruel.  All, aside from sheer brutality, can also be used correctly.  Until I try handling an elephant, I won’t opine on how to do it.

*First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog May 12/11. Since then, I’ve read Water for Elephants and it is absolutely wonderful.

Circus Cirque

circus cirque Quidam poster, from Cirque du Soleil siteWe went to see Cirque du Soleil at London’s John Labatt Centre recently.  The show, Quidam, was fabulous.  Also the first circus I’ve been to at the JLC with no protestors outside. When my husband said he’d bought tickets, I said “but they don’t have animals!”

Yes, I’ve been to other circuses at the JLC.  Took the protestors’ pamphlets, walked on into the show and enjoyed it.  I listened to the ring master talk about the protestors and about how the circus looks after their animals.

Googling circus and anti-circus sites didn’t help clarify my thoughts on animal acts.  I hate the thought of any animal being mistreated in training or living conditions.  I also love seeing the animals in circuses.  I’ve hung out on as many circus back lots as I could before, during and after shows.  Whether they were rehearsing, feeding or relaxing, I never saw anything between people and animals that looked bad.

horses, Kelly Miller CircusI’ve thought a lot about this – am I contravening my beliefs by attending every circus I can?  I don’t know.  If I knew that a particular circus, or trainer, was truly known to abuse their animals, then I would want to see them stopped.  But are they all bad?  I can’t just agree, yes they are, without knowing from independent sources.  The anti-circus, animal rights people say all circuses are bad.  Circuses say they treat their animals well and that they’re doing great things for animal protection.  What do non-biased, non-involved sources say?  Those are thin on the ground.

elephant pulling up tent peg, Kelly Miller CircusAnimal lovers are animal lovers, and animal abusers are animal abusers.  Both will be found in any animal-related endeavour.  So stop having performance and entertainment that involves animals, you say.  Ok, what happens then to those animals?

The elephants, big cats and bears could go to a zoo.  Oh that will be a nice life for them. Day in, day out in an enclosure, eating, standing, sleeping.  Go back to “the wild.”  Is that workable for domesticated creatures?  And what wild?  Elephant and big cat populations have been decimated by poachers and by loss of territory and encroachment of human settlement.  There ain’t no viable “wild” for them to return to, even if they could fend for themselves.

And the circus people – what would they do?  There’s a vibrant culture in circus life that Kelly Miller Circus reptile display, elephant ridesshould be esteemed as a national treasure.  These are multi-generational families of skilled artists whose talents should be lauded.  Troupes like Cirque du Soleil are probably not the answer for them.  I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that Cirque du Soleil has a different ethos, traveling manner, history and way of life than that of the long-standing circuses.  Traditional circus people winter in Florida, not Las Vegas.

I remember 1999, the last visit of the Kelly Miller big top circus to St. Thomas.  I had never seen a circus in an actual tent.  They erected it on vacant land at Centre and Moore Streets.  It was magical inside the tent and, outside, barkers called you to see the snakes Kelly Miller tent down, ready to packand games of chance.  This was the final performance at this stop, and we watched them pack up.  The elephants pulled the tent down and the roustabouts folded it and packed it in the trucks.  When animals and people were all loaded into their vehicles, the long caravan pulled out for the next town.  All I wanted to do was follow them.