We went to circus this weekend. So did a bunch of animal rights protesters.
About two dozen were on the sidewalk outside the DCU Center in Worcester on Saturday, as families with small children arrived for the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey show, which comes to the TD Garden in Boston this Wednesday.
I stopped to chat with a few of them -- including a member of the Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition -- who told me her group wants circuses to stop using animals entirely.
(Some of the protesters I met don't care much for zoos either, but their major beef -- no pun intended -- seemed to be with traveling circuses, where animals are forced to perform and confined for many hours per day.)
Ringling Bros. is clearly sensitive to the criticism -- it now hosts an hourlong pre-show where families can visit the animals and their trainers close up, ask questions, and take pictures. In 1995, the company built a 200-acre elephant sanctuary and study center in Florda.
Circus officials say the animals are treated well, live decades longer on average than in the wild, and receive quality food, affection and medical care. They say environmental degredation and black market poaching are a far greater threat to the survival of endangered Asian and African elephants than any circus.
They think animal rights protesters should apply pressure on governments overseas to protect exotic animals, not disrupt local circuses bringing joy to kids and employing humans during a recession.
Adult disputes aside, my kids -- ages 4 and 6 -- were unequivocal about the circus: they loved it.
They were positively entranced and found it as magical as I did, back in 1979, at the old Boston Garden. (I have to admit, aside from the protestors, the sexy Cirque de Soleil-style acrobats, and the shockingly-priced $9 lemonades, the show hadn't really changed much.)
Driving home, the kids made me promise to take them again next year, and talked incessantly about how cool the elephants and tigers were.
I have to wonder, is there any redeeming good in providing a venue for kids to see and fall in love with these animals? How else would a Boston-born kid see exotic creatures like big cats and elephants without a trip to a zoo or circus?
I'm not suggesting we sacrifice the welfare of animals to educate kids.
But since circuses and zoos are already here -- and are likely to be for many years to come -- shouldn't we use them as educational tools? Or must animal lovers boycott the circus?
about the author
Erica Noonan is chief of the Globe West bureau. Before joining the Globe in 2000, she worked for the Associated Press in Boston. Raised in Wellesley, she has a master's degree in political communication from Emerson College and a BA in political science from Trinity University in San Antonio. She lives in Natick with two energetic children: Dennis, 6, and Lila, 4.
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