When Jamie first told me that she and Dave were signing a two year contract with the circus, I have to admit I had some serious misgivings. The first thing that came to mind was the duration of the contract. Two years is a long time on the road with an itinerary, and a very long time to be away from the comforts of home.
I worked in the music business for a long time and know how grueling every aspect of a road tour can be. Add to that scenario the hoard of birds that would be accompanying them as part of the act, and the very idea seemed crazy to me. Would the birds even be able to handle an outing like this?
My second thoughts were about the circus and their reputation for the mistreatment of their animals. I know Jamie and Dave love animals and I couldn’t imagine either of them condoning abuse, let alone standing by and watching it happen.
Jamie patiently heard me out while I ranted about how horrible life on the road is, and the how the circus is famous for its horrible conditions for the animals, and how will the birds adjust to this kind of schedule? It speaks highly of Jamie that she was still on the other end of the line when I got done. She and Dave had already contemplated those same questions, done their research and found answers and solutions to potential problems.
My experience touring with a rock band has you playing a city one night and rushing on to the next city. All you see is the inside of a hotel, the inside of a venue and the stretch of road in between. The first thing that crosses your mind when you wake up every morning is: “Where am I?” The second thing: “When is this going to be over?”
The circus tour is designed to be far less arduous. There is a week long stay in each location and the travel times between locations amount to four or five hours. Jamie and Dave’s birds are well accustomed to travel. They often make the trip from Florida to Moab, Utah to free-fly their birds in a safer environment than Florida offers. They have a trailer that has been modified to comfortably haul their parrots and accessories. Further, they have designed an portable outdoor aviary for them to hang out in during their free time. Performance for the birds is not stressful. It is fun interaction between the parrots and their owners, the difference being that a crowd of people are watching. For the parrot that loves to be the center attention, this is heaven.
On the touchier subject of the circus and their treatment of the animals, I did research and found that there are stories of abuse that are very concerning. There is one about the death of a lion that died a heat-related death in a boxcar in transit through the Mojave. Another is video footage of the mishandling of elephants during training. That footage would be much more disturbing had it not been put together by PETA, who unashamedly doctor the audio portions of their videos and use editing to increase visual shock value to further their cause. The further I dug, I found PETA to be the source of just about every piece of bad press.
I worked with PETA in the 1980’s, back when they were a group of young idealist kids like myself. Their values seemed sound to me then and they appeared to be heading in the right direction. Over the years, they have mutated into a group that will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. The word “ethical” should be removed entirely from their name, but PTA is taken. DO YOUR RESEARCH before you support this group in any way. They are NOT friends to animals. They routinely euthanize their “rescues” without any attempt to rehab or re-home them. It is their goal, in fact, to eliminate pets from our homes altogether so there can be no abuse. In doing this, aside from the heartbreak to we animal lovers, they would certainly guarantee the extinction of many species that only can survive in our homes because of their breeding (dogs), or those species that will soon be extinct in the wild (parrots). While I abhor violence towards animals, PETA’s involvement in this crusade against the circus leaves me uncertain.
There are several pages to the Ringling Contracts that specify the importance of respect and proper treatment of the animals; including how animals receive the right of way backstage. Ringling also has the most qualified vets on site 24/7 that tour along with them specifically for the care and health of the animals in the show.
Trainers are also given the utmost respect with their animals as all performers have “backstage conduct” of never approaching an animal without a trainer asking them to. Respect and care for the circus animals goes far beyond the stage, behind the stage, or on the road… it never stops.
Positive reinforcement (the animal doing a behavior for a treat or other positive reward it wants) as well as basic touch training and stationing is used in the training methods of the trainers from horses, to lions to the parrots now featured in the show Illuscination.
These are all very positive signs that Ringling is concerned for their animal’s welfare, but I think the best proof of all will be Dave and Jamie’s experiences with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus. Stay tuned for many updates from them right here on the blog!
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.