The Ethics of Using Animals as Entertainment (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. (June 11, 2013)

IMGP1811IMGP1808As you might have seen on my Facebook timeline, we attended Circus Flora and enjoyed it last Friday night.  I bet I haven’t been to a circus since I was a kid in the 70s and saw one in Olney.  I don’t think I even attended a circus at Circus World in Florida during the 80s but instead rode the rides there.  The theme of going to the moon attracted us, and I liked how they integrated the classic 1902 movie Le Voyage dans la Lune by Georges Méliès into the performance. My favorite part of the evening was the artistry of Duo Ardeo, combining the grace of gymnastics and dance with their use of aerial straps.

I think that I’d like to throw out this question for your consideration:  “Should we use animals or train animals to be entertainment for us, even if they are humanely treated in the process?”  My question presumes that animals can be treated with respect in such situations, which many animal rights activists would disagree with; however, if we do assume that it’s possible, is it still ethical to make them perform at all?   Circus Flora has this statement on their website ( :

“Circus Flora has always stood for the best quality of life, both in and out of the ring. This respect and care is shown equally to everyone, human and animal alike. We continue to be committed to try to produce the best theater circus in this country. Animals that live at Circus Flora have daily exercise, balanced diets, and the best animal husbandry available. Clearly, the prevailing culture at the circus that is named after an elephant, is that the care of the animals comes first. Circus Flora never has, nor ever will, condone any animal abuse whatsoever.”

There were several dogs, goats, horses, and a donkey used last night.  The dogs SEEMED into it, but the minature horses did not seem to enjoy being pranced around looking like lions. Recently, I had a student social action project point out that although we think dolphins, as dogs, are “smiling,” they really aren’t, and we should not be supporting aquatic shows either.  I’ve also had a student project in the past advocate against supporting circuses, and although I’m not a vegetarian, and do believe we have the right to use animals in a humane way to support basic human needs, I’m not sure if entertainment falls under that moral rubric.    If we could hear these animals talk, would they be saying, “Geez, this is a crock.  Get me out of here!”? I kind of felt weird clapping for them as well as their trainers; yes, the trainers have worked hard to get the animals to do what they are doing–but is it ethical from our evolved understanding?  Does it really show “Care for God’s Creation,” as Catholic Social Teaching would say?

As I write this, I’m looking at Clover here on the porch at Bella Luna (she’s the one perched in the desk chair above).  We receive so much just from our pets’ presence, and although we joked last night about starting to make Autumn and Clover practice flips on the bed, it does make me wonder if I’m at that point of saying “Let’s have a circus without the manipulation of animals for our entertainment.” What do you think?


About johnpowell1020

Middle-aged theology teacher who believes in the best of life's paradoxes. Loves God, Lisa, his family, The Beatles, Wilco, great music, the Chicago Cubs, the University of Florida , Barry University, teaching, photography, the piano, documentaries, Autumn, Clover & India, peacocks, and so much more....
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