When you think of what folks will do to animals for a YouTube video, it seems a bit outdated to ask whether circuses should still be using animals. Yet the question is still there: Despite many Cirque du Soleil-style human companies – not to mention towns that ban performing animals – traditional circuses still trot out dancing dogs and cavorting camels.
Ringling Bros/Barnum and Bailey is one of the biggest of them. And while its show “Barnum Bash,” coming to the Tacoma Dome this weekend, is a small, one-ring show without lions and tigers, it still has dogs, camels, horses, snakes and elephants, all doing things they’d never do in the wild.
Is it all necessary? Or humane?
“Ringling Bros has always used animals in the 142 years it’s been going,” said clown Dean Kelley, who hosts the “Barnum Bash” pre-show, when audience members get to meet performers up close. “Our animals are amazing. Even if you have a zoo in your town you can’t always see an elephant every day, especially from five feet away. In the zoo they’re often up the far end of the enclosure.”
Such proximity educates people about animals and encourages them to be more thoughtful about their well-being, Kelley said.
“It’s true,” said John Houck, deputy director of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma. “If people see animals up close and personal ... you achieve the benefit of caring from that, whether the animals are in a zoo or a circus.”
As far as animal treatment goes, RBBB has “a better reputation than most circuses,” Houck said.
The RBBB website states that the circus exceeds federal regulations for animal welfare, providing an outdoor public housing facility, daily grooming, an on-staff veterinarian and reward-based training, among other things.
The company also has an elephant breeding program in Florida which, according to Houck, has a better elephant breeding record than zoos.
“Only animals that are healthy and well-cared for will breed,” Houck added.
Finally, Houck explains that constant stimulation and exercise can be good for these intelligent animals, a fact backed up by Kelley. “Our animals love their job,” the clown said. “They get excited (backstage) when it’s their turn to go out.”
Whether or not you agree with dogs in tutus and camels practicing two-hoof balances, you can check it out at the “Barnum Bash” pre-show event – free with a ticket – which includes backstage visits with the animals and an in-ring elephant appearance five feet away from you. It is, as Kelley said, a lot closer than at the firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8568 blog.thenewstribune.com/arts