Animal Rights

Making the Abuse of Circus Elephants More 'Humane'

| by Gary L Francione

I frequently get inquiries from undergraduate students who tell me that they
want to go to law school so that they can study “animal law” and ask my advice
about how to become “animal lawyers.” I respond that what is commonly referred
to as “animal law”–veterinary malpractice cases, “pet” custody cases, “pet”
trust cases, and cruelty cases–does not in any way move nonhuman animals away
from their status as human property. Indeed, for the reasons explained in our video on animal law, it further enmeshes them in
that paradigm. I tell those students that if they want to do something useful,
they should: (1) become vegan; (2) educate others about veganism; and (3) do pro
bono work as lawyers for advocates who are promoting veganism and who need legal
protection, which is often the case. I have represented many such activists over
the years.

The problems with “animal law” are illustrated by a pending lawsuit by a
group of welfarist organizations and a former elephant trainer against Ringling
Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The issue is whether the use of hooks and
metal-tipped prods to control elephants violates the Endangered Species Act.

According to an article (”Animal rights, circus lawyers differ on
about the lawsuit:

Under questioning from the judge, Meyer [the attorney for the plaintiffs]
acknowledged that not all use of chains and prods would violate the law. She
said she hopes that [the judge] will require the circus to get permits from the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use the tools. But she could not say
specifically what treatment should be allowed or just how long elephants could
legally be kept on chains.

I know Kathleen Meyer, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs. She is a fine
attorney. It is, however, sad that the “animal rights” position is that we need
to regulate the use of hooks and prods, and require that circuses get permits.
The idea that the “animal rights” position concerns how long elephants can be
kept on chains is disturbing on a number of levels.

How many dollars contributed to help animals are being used for this effort?
More importantly, why does anyone think that this sort of lawsuit will do
anything to lead in the direction of abolishing animal exploitation or even
providing any increased protection for animals? Perhaps we should consider that
the money would be better spent educating people as to why they should not
attend circuses that use any nonhuman animals. It is a zero-sum game; every
dollar we spend on regulating the use of hooks and prods is a dollar less that
we spend on decreasing the demand for such spectacles through creative,
nonviolent abolitionist education.

But the issue always comes back to veganism. As long as we are killing 56
billion per year for food (not counting aquatic animals) with our best
justification being that we enjoy the taste of animal products, it is unlikely
that we are going to develop the consciousness that will lead anywhere except to
supposedly more “humane” exploitation. Regulating regulating the use of chains
and hooks is not going to provide much, if any, benefit to the animals; it will,
however, make us feel more comfortable about exploiting them.

But then, making us feel better–making us feel that we are “good”
people; making us feel that we are a “humane” society–is what animal
welfare and animal law are all about.