From Ex-Ringling Bros. Employee Archele Hundley:
I was one of those little girls who dreamed of working with animals when I grew up. So when I had a chance to apply for a job with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, I gave up my well-paying job and jumped at it. I was delighted to be hired in April 2006 to help care for Ringling’s performing horses.
What I witnessed will haunt me for the rest of my life. Although I’ve never been an animal rights activist and am not a member of PETA, I would never again patronize an animal circus and I would never, ever take my children to see one. What I discovered is that the animal division of Ringling Bros. is a culture of violence and domination.
There is no “positive reinforcement,” and there is certainly no affection. The trainers and handlers want the animal terrified so that they can make them do what they want. The elephants are so terrified of the handlers that they begin urinating, defecating and trumpeting in fear at the sound of their voices.
I observed animal abuse on a regular basis, every single day I worked with the circus. Handlers jabbed horses with pitchforks and viciously twisted the horses’ lips until they screamed. Ringling handlers knew they could get away with anything with the horses, as horses are excluded from protection under the federal Animal Welfare Act.
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Ringling’s head trainer once beat an elephant with a sharp metal bullhook (a standard circus tool that resembles a fireplace poker) for a full 30 minutes because the elephant refused a command to lie down. The trainer smacked her repeatedly with the bullhook behind her ear and on her leg. When she still ignored his commands, the trainer swung the bullhook into the elephant’s ear canal like a baseball bat, and, with it embedded, pulled down with all his body weight on the handle. She squealed in pain three or four times and let out a loud, shrill shriek. She was so severely wounded that blood ran down the whole side of her face.
When I complained about the abuse, after seeing a trainer whip a camel and another punch a miniature horse in the face, I was told that I could pack my bags if I didn’t like it. Other employees who complained too much were fired. Ringling management never reprimanded violent trainers but they were careful not to let the public witness mistreatment. Employees weren’t even allowed to carry cameras in case we should capture the abuse or the filthy living conditions on film. After just three months, I quit, heartbroken by what I’d seen and what I knew I couldn’t stop. I have nothing to gain by coming forward. But I have given a sworn affidavit about what I witnessed because the least I can do is let others know what’s going on and to implore them not to support Ringling and other animal circuses.
The laws that are supposed to protect animals in circuses are inadequate and do nothing to stop the pervasive violence against animals. Although I grew up starry-eyed about life on the road with a circus, I now believe we owe it to the animals and to our children to tell the truth: Every time someone pays the price of admission to Ringling Bros., they are ensuring that the beatings, whippings, chaining and suffering of animals continues.
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