Should You Go to the Circus? How About the Rodeo?

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 5:30 AM EST

After reading Deborah Nelson's incredibly depressing piece on circus elephant abuse, I'm pretty sure I'll never enter the Ringling Bros. big top again. But it did get me wondering about other forms of animal entertainment.

Just a few weeks ago, some friends and I went to the Grand National Rodeo. Protesters outside the arena warned us that "rodeos are not fun for the animals." Yet inside, the announcer assured us that the horses and cows were well cared for and healthy, and that they even enjoyed the "exercise" of shaking off hapless cowboys. And after watching one guy limp out of the ring after getting dragged by a bucking bronc, I had to admit that it did seem like the riders took more abuse than the animals. So are all animal shows really as cruel as Ringling Bros.? Or is there such thing as good old-fashioned performing-critter fun?

The law subjects tigers to the same confinement rules as monkeys or dogs.

Unsurprisingly, circuses that they adhere to rigorous standards of animal welfare. Ringling Bros. says that its approach to animal training is "built on respect, trust, affection and uncompromising care." Yet by law, circuses are really only required to follow one piece of legislation: the Animal Welfare Act. Enacted in 1966, the law is meant to regulate "the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers." But Delcianna Winders, PETA's director of captive animal law enforcement, told me that the AWA has been criticized for its lack of species-specific rules—under the law, an elephant or a tiger is subject to the same confinement rules as, say, a monkey or a dog. And even when USDA inspectors find evidence of abuse, as Nelson shows in her piece, the animal keepers often get away scot-free.

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