Yesterday I lost another friend on Facebook, and probably in the real world too. It’s a matter of small consequence but I feel that the broader point is worth a blog.
The bone of contention concerned the posting by my friend of a video showing Poodles and St Bernards performing their act in a circus. It shows them doing the typical things you might expect of animals being used in this way: walking around on their hind legs, jumping over one another; you know the kind of thing. On face value, it’s one of those ‘feel good’ videos that does the rounds.
Or is it?
I didn’t find it amusing, and it certainly didn't make me feel good. In fact my reaction was quite contrary to what was intended. So being me, I posted a comment in response to the posting.
“This is SeaWorld for dogs.”
Needless to say, the disapprobation this public comment elicited from her friends was just starting to trickle in when I heard back from my friend. She expressed her deep surprise that I could not see the 'fun' in the video, since it merely served to show the ‘joyous nature of the breed’ (Poodles) and suggested that if I found it offensive, I should ‘unfriend’ her.
I did... so I did.
But being me, I wouldn’t let it rest there.
I wrote to my friend expressing my equal surprise that she could not see the true nature of what was happening in the video. I let her know that I deplored dogs being made to do unnatural things and explained that my strength of viewpoint stemmed from increasing militancy with regards to animal rights issues.
Then she responded that she was concerned about my militancy. She told me that I was being negative, assured me that dogs walking around on their hind legs was perfectly natural, and expressed her hope that my heart was not hardening to the joy that animals bring to people.
That opened the floodgates.
What follows was for her, but I think its relevant for everybody to consider these points; so here’s an insight into my personal correspondence (albeit edited somewhat to preserve anonymity):
“Let's deal with the militant thing first as this is apparently a concern for you. If you look up a definition of militant, you will see numerous meanings, including the words 'confrontational' and 'combative'. When I describe myself as becoming increasingly militant, I mean that I believe it is necessary to confront people with issues they may not have considered. I seek to do so about animal rights and welfare. I am prepared to be combative about it because I think it's important; and that's what I'm going to be now.
You are unsure as to why I cannot see that the video 'shows the pure fun of a dog’s temperament'. When you posted a video of your dogs running around your yard and having a blast, that shows me the pure fun of their temperament. Why do you feel that footage of them being manipulated in this sideshow freak manner adds any value? The video shows dogs being forced to do unnatural things for profit. Plain and simple. Standing on their hind legs may be natural, (sure, they dance for tidbits and they'll stand up at a kitchen counter) but when have you ever seen your dogs doing the things in this video, spontaneously, by choice? I have a fair bit of dog experience myself, and I've never seen our dogs do anything of the kind.
Look at the whole setting. Look at the trainer. Do you really imagine that they are doing this because it's fun? What do you think has gone on behind the scenes? What do you think their lives are like? What do you know about animal training for acts of this type? Are you going to use the excuse that these dogs are loving what they're doing? How do you know? Are you blindsided by their apparently smiley faces? Is it not conceivable that their demeanour merely speaks to their knowledge of the upcoming prospect of food that might (if they're lucky) have been used to incentivise them? The public has for years bought into the myth that 'the animals love to perform'. (SeaWorld tells its audience that the whales love what they do. Really? Have you watched Blackfish on Netflix?) It's utter fallacy.
Of course you don't see evidence of coercion. What would the evidence of coercion look like? Do you really believe the trainers would let you see it? If the dogs seem happy, can you not see that it's possible that it's relief because they have done 'right' what they would be punished for if they got it 'wrong'.
This video does not demonstrate the fun nature of dogs. What this video is evidence of is the willing, compliant temperaments these creatures have. It amply demonstrates how easily they can be manipulated and consequently, how vulnerable they are to being used for gain and profit.
Many countries are currently going to great lengths to make the use of animals in circus type entertainment illegal, specifically because the training of the animals has been filmed and the horrors that they endure are well documented. Why should dogs be excluded? They're certainly not exempt from cruelty. I don't believe you've thought this through, nor are you (apparently) aware of what kinds of techniques are utilised in shows like this. They are a constant source of material for those seeking to expose cruelty. This is no different from performing elephants or seals.
Posting this is a throwback to the treatment of animals that we should all be moving away from. It's an endorsement of something we will come to be ashamed of years to come. Don't you think it appropriate that now society has made reasonable progress with regard to racial and sexual equalities, we should consider animal rights too?
You've asserted twice that I'm seeing the negative. I'm being realistic. There is precious little that's positive about this video. It doesn't show what you think or what you might like to imagine. Think about it at a level that goes beyond the superficial. You're overlaying it with a 'rose tinted spectacles' viewpoint that may be comfortable, but isn't the truth.
You say that you hope my heart doesn't harden. It increasingly softens to the plight of animals. It is precisely because I see the joy they bring that I am appalled by their exploitation, in any shape or form. I can see what our relationship with them could/should be. This video doesn't show joy. It encourages people to think of them as things that are there merely for our amusement. It is a shameful spectacle”.
I think I said it all.
I was disappointed with my friend. She's entitled to her opinion about what the video depicts, but the problem is that the dogs are not. They are the victims of a mindless supposition that they must be 'loving it' because the audience is. Put yourself in their position. Would you enjoy it if you had to perform banal and uncomfortable tricks, because you looked amusing while you were doing them? Would you like to double up and run around on your hands and feet, four times per day, egged on by a noisy audience of strangers, all for their entertainment? Would you want to do this just so that you got fed, whilst being kept in a small cage for the rest of the time?
Clearly my friend didn't see it this way.
So I was left wondering how long are otherwise right thinking people going to allow themselves to be convinced by the ridiculous myth that any animal can enjoy it when they're induced to do what does not come naturally to them? How can we possibly believe that ‘animals bringing joy to people’ is something that it is OK when it is done at their expense? Doesn’t that mean that it was OK to kill Cecil because it brought so much pleasure to the vile Walter Palmer; or that the Faroe Islands whale massacre is fine because the Islanders have such fun doing it?
PS. The photo at the top of the page shows a circus WAY less sordid than the one in the video posting.