I decided not to have an emotionally charged pitch, but passed out flyers to incoming families saying “Free Information about the Circus.” Eric from PETA was even nicer. “Did you get one of these?” he’d ask with genuine warmth. “Thanks a lot. We’re asking people to make this their last visit to the circus.” He was a pro. No wailing guilt trips or useless harassment as I’ve seen from some so-called activists. Many people assume that “everyone” at a protest is from PETA or some other animal welfare organization. Not true.
In the late 1980s, During my early days at anti-veal and anti-vivisection protests, a random guy named Jingles would come all dressed in bells and baggy hippie-clown attire while the organizers from Last Chance for Animals would arrive in suits. ANYWAY, although I felt fairly robotic in comparison to Eric’s humanity, I learned that it was effective to just hand out the flyer without a preamble. Perhaps some people felt “tricked” into being handed a depressing image, but others seemed quite open. I didn’t see a lot of these pamphlets littering the ground the way I do when Vegan Outreach comes to Glendale College and I scoop up the numberless images of factory farms blanketing the campus. Only one person at the circus handed the flyer back to me. This year, like last year, a couple of people who didn’t yet have tickets to the circus changed their minds after looking at the literature–probably the baby elephants being “trained” with ropes and bull hooks. One woman actually broke down.
After I ran out of leaflets, I joined my friend Connie near a side parking lot. Just over the fence behind us were trailers housing the tigers.
The tiger in the first small trailer did not stop pacing the entire time I was leafleting and holding a sign reading RINGLING PAID $270,000 IN ANIMAL WELFARE FINES, which was probably at least 40 minutes.
Even the introduction of a liger into the small cage next to his did nothing to calm this animal. This pacing, so common in zoo animals, always reminds me of Rilke’s panther.
Activists and circus patrons alike were peering through the chain link to get a glimpse of the cats. I couldn’t forget all the stories of circus animal escapes I’d read in Fear of The Animal Planet last semester. Beyond animal rights, I realized anew how dangerous it is to haul these big cats from town to town in trailers in places full of children.
In the middle trailer, a serene, magisterial head suddenly rose. “Look at him,” a woman next to me gasped.
This tiger, or big cat looked unreal to me partly because I could only see his head in profile and he kept it so perfectly still that he first appeared to me to be fake–like a gloriously expensive stuffed cat. The word I kept thinking of was “impossible.” The staring seemed to be a kind of studying. He didn’t seem distracted by the clanging of the other tigers or the circus workers. He just gazed toward the Honda Center. This animal appeared to have a sort of ruff of hair around the base of his neck and spots as well as stripes.
I know it sounds as if I am describing a hallucination, not a cat.
I ran to get Connie’s phone to take a picture but when I returned, he’d sunk back into his cage again. How utterly out-of-place, out of time, out of their worlds these tigers, like the elephants are. Ferocious beautiful otherworldly beings, stuck behind the bars at Anaheim, and beyond the fence, humans–who had come to protest their imprisonment and others who’d bought tickets to watch them perform, all of them gawking, equally helpless, useless and amazed.