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PETA volunteers protest Ringling Bros. circus on opening night

In opposition to the opening of the Ringling Bros. circus at TD Garden, a small group of PETA protestors on Thursday brought attention to the alleged poor treatment of tigers. PHOTO BY BRIAN SONG/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
In opposition to the opening of the Ringling Bros. circus at TD Garden, a small group of PETA protestors on Thursday brought attention to the alleged poor treatment of tigers. PHOTO BY BRIAN SONG/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Approximately 15 people stood across the street from TD Garden on Thursday night, holding signs with slogans such as “Don’t lie to your children, this place hurts animals,” to protest the opening night of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Laura Ray, a full-time volunteer for PETA, organized the demonstration, and has been doing so every year since 2009. Back then, Ringling Bros. were still using elephants in their shows.

In May of this year, Ringling Bros. retired elephants, which were previously the main focus of PETA’s demonstrations against the circus, according to Ray. The elephants have been retired to sanctuaries, but Ray said the organization is not satisfied with the conditions of the sanctuary either.

“It’s bogus because they’re still chained up during the day, they’re breeding them — they still beat them,” Ray said.

Ray explained that even though PETA has moved on from focusing on the treatment of elephants in particular, they plan to continue fighting for better treatment of the rest of the animals involved in Ringling Bros. performances.

“Now, we’re focusing on the rest of the animals in Ringling, but the main focus now is the big cats,” Ray said. “We’d like them to be retired to sanctuaries as well — real sanctuaries.”

A few of the organizers wore tiger costumes, passing out coloring books to children that included facts about how tigers live in the wild.

The circus’s tigers, however, travel long distances in small cages, according to Ray.

“Ringling travels 50 weeks out of the year and this means the big cats are in cramped, small travel cages,” Ray said. “It’s like spending the rest of your life in an airplane seat — coach, not first class.”

Ray said while she does believe there has been decreased attendance at circus events in the last few years, her ultimate goal is to see Ringling Bros. take animals out of their routines entirely and use only human performers.

“Everyone can see they’re miserable and they perform because they’re afraid not to,” Ray said. “This isn’t entertainment, this is cruelty.”

Attendees at the demonstration included several PETA volunteers who said they came out to advocate for the animals used in circuses.

Heather Schofield said she has been protesting the circus for at least 20 years in Boston.

“We want them to take the animals out of the circus and stop this. We want them to live how they should live.”

Schofield said some people respond well to their demonstrations, while others don’t.

“People don’t let themselves think about the reality of the situation,” Schofield said. “Many of them walk by and try to hide their kids.”

Margaret Ronna, a protester who has been volunteering for PETA for five years, said the conditions animals are placed in are inhumane.

“It’s not natural for them to do these tricks so they force them into submission to get them to do these strange things that are not natural,” Ronna said.

Five-year protest volunteer Sandy Primo said the animals are given no freedom whatsoever and are in cramped conditions when being transported.

“They take them from cage to cage … city to city.”

Primo said she believes most people who continue attending the circus do so because they are unaware of the conditions the animals are put in.

“Most people I find don’t know [how the animals are treated],” Primo said. “They don’t know because they haven’t seen the behind the scenes of what goes on for the training part of it … all we can expect is that we’re planting a seed.”

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  2. Bravo! Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus trades in abuse. Tigers are solitary, nocturnal animals who command vast natural ranges. Lions live in prides with other lions. Both are apex predators–the top of the chain–but you’d never know it when they’re being whipped around a cage and forced to perform demeaning tricks. It’s usually their lone reprieve from a life in confinement. That is Ringling’s business model. Until the circus retires the big cats to reputable sanctuaries where they can experience something akin to their natural lives, remember that every ticket purchased is an endorsement of Ringling’s special brand of cruelty.

  3. Fantastic article Laney! It was such a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for covering our demo. It’s so completely important for people to know and realize the cruelty animals endure in circuses. Like I said “animals perform because they are afraid not to” I hope to see you again. Let me know if you need any help on the vegan front. : )

  4. Animals in circuses spend their lives in captivity, submitting to the whip and the chain. They endure harsh training methods, and constant transport around the country in boxcars. They are made to sacrifice EVERYTHING for the fleeting entertainment of circus patrons, and the enrichment of Ringling and other circus owners.

    Many countries around the world have banned the use of wild animals in circuses.
    Cirque du Soleil and other circuses that do not use animals are dazzling and wonderful.