Thursday, April 05, 2007

Former Shriner urges end to Shrine Circuses, citing cruel treatment of elephants

A former Shriner has had a change of heart about the Shrine's circus fundraising, after learning about what he considers mistreatment of elephants.

He's joined forces with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and has written a letter to the Shrine's Illustrious Potentate in his home state of Montana.

Here is a news release from the PETA website:
For Immediate Release:
March 23, 2007

Lisa Wathne 757-622-7382

Billings, Mont. — This morning, Nicholas Trammell, a former Shriner whose great uncle was an imperial potentate in Kansas and whose grandfather's Blue Lodge and Scottish Rite rings Trammell wears to this day, fired off a letter on behalf of PETA to Russell Stoddard, the illustrious potentate of the Al Bedoo Shrine in Billings, urging him to stop using circuses as fundraisers. Trammell, who once won an award for promoting and selling tickets for the El Jebel Shrine Circus in Denver�resigned from the Shriners after learning about the gentle and loving nature of elephants and how these intelligent animals are routinely prodded, struck, and beaten behind the ears by trainers who use steel-tipped bullhooks.

PETA has obtained shocking video footage of a circus trainer, who is featured in several Shrine Circuses, violently attacking elephants with bullhooks as the animals scream and recoil in pain. The trainer instructs the other handlers to make sure that the beatings are always severe and never carried out in view of the public. Big cats and bears are also trained through pain and fear and are "stored" in barren cages when they're not being used.

The Shrine produces circuses by either hiring an existing circus or putting together a collection of animal exhibitors, acrobats, and other acts that perform under the name of the Shrine Circus. In his letter, Trammell suggests that the Shrine replace circuses with fundraisers that have been successful elsewhere, such as golf tournaments, car shows, festivals, and dance-a-thons.

"I have learned that physical punishment has long been the standard training method for animals in circuses," writes Trammell. "As part of the world's greatest philanthropic organization, the Al Bedoo Temple must take a stand and show the world the compassion that the Shrine is famous for by ending its affiliation with circuses that use animals."

For more information, please visit PETA's Web site

Nicholas Trammell's letter follows.

March 23, 2007

Russell J. Stoddard, Illustrious Potentate
Al Bedoo Shrine
P.O. Box 20673
Billings, MT 59104

Dear Mr. Stoddard,

I am writing to you not only as a former Shriner, but as someone whose family involvement in Shriners goes back several generations. I gladly donated hundreds of hours to work for the El Jebel Shrine in Denver, Colorado, and in 2004, I was awarded the "Jewel of El Jebel" for my work promoting and selling tickets to the circus. My great uncle, who was an imperial potentate in Kansas, would have been proud. My grandfather, whose Blue Lodge and Scottish Rite rings I wear to this day and whose fez and apron are all I have to remember him by, would also have been proud.

It was with a great sense of sadness that I reluctantly dropped my Shrine membership. I came to understand that one of the Shrine's activities was so morally wrong, harmful, and personally objectionable that I decided to follow my conscience and part ways. This activity was the Shrine's use of animals in its annual circus fundraiser. I hope that you will take my experiences to heart and consider bringing Shriners into a more modern era by replacing the circus with humane alternatives.

I joined the Blue Lodge in 2001 and then was accepted as a member of the El Jebel Shrine in 2003. I immediately immersed myself in the charitable works of the temple. I volunteered at the circus office. I sold circus packages. I even sang the national anthem at the circus opening. Ironically, it was during a circus appearance that I had a change of heart about the Shrine promoting the circus. A sweet and kind elephant picked me out of a crowd and went out of her way to nuzzle me and communicate in spite of her handler's instructions. She touched me deeply and made me realize that none of God's creatures, particularly one so beautiful and intelligent, should ever be subjected to the harsh life that she so obviously endured with the circus.

I have since learned that physical punishment has long been the standard training method for animals in circuses. The federal Animal Welfare Act puts no restrictions on what training methods may be used. Bullhooks, whips, tight collars, muzzles, and electric prods are commonly used tools that cause pain and suffering. The tricks that animals are forced to perform are physically uncomfortable and behaviorally unnatural. The animals, most of whom are quite large and naturally active, spend the majority of their lives caged or chained in trailers while traveling from city to city.

I know from experience that Shrine brothers are kind and good men. I hope that you will put aside any defensive feelings and objectively examine the wealth of information that shows what really goes on behind the scenes at circuses. Many Shrine temples raise funds with activities such as golf tournaments, car shows, festivals, and dance-a-thons, activities that are fun for participants and profitable for the temples. As the world's greatest philanthropy, I urge you to show the world the compassion that the Shrine is famous for by ending your affiliation with circuses that use animals.

Very sincerely yours,

Nicholas Trammell
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  1. This post links nicely with a thought provoking essay I just read this week, and plan to bring up for discussion in my Lodge. The article is by Steven Pinker, and it is called "The History of Violence":

    Though it is primarily about the decline of human on human violence over the centuries (arguing that we really, truly are getting better, even when it seems we are not), he also mentions that part of this evolution toward us being a more gentle species is reflected in our treatment of animals. In fact, his piece starts out with this:

    "In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire..."

    I think that animal circuses are a relic of our former attitude toward animals, and should be allowed to fade into the past along with cat burning and bear baiting as something we just don't do anymore. I commend the Brother for speaking out to the Shrine on this topic.

  2. I'm not a shriner or sticking up for them but I think every circus has been accused of mistreating animals by PETA and other groups.

    It's probably a good thing if it keeps them on their feet to make sure they take care of the animals better.

  3. Personally, I've disliked circuses for decades, precisely because of reasons like this. Not just the Shriners, but all circuses. In fact, I'm not even crazy about zoos, either. I'll admit to a personal peeve about this, but I don't think it's ethical to train animals simply for our amusement. Hell, I hate to see pets made to wear those stupid little knit sweaters.

    However, I can't really come up with a good ethical argument why this is not appropriate, but leaving it okay to use them for draft purposes, or to eat them.

  4. I am pleased that a Shriner realizes the abuse that the circus animals go through to learn their "tricks" and the sad lives they have - chained and caged the entire time they are not performing. I hope other Shriners realize this is not a very wholesome form of entertainment and find another way to raise money for their programs.

  5. You all must be nuts! In cahoots with PETA? Maybe they need to be sued again to keep there mouths shut like before. Making unfounded accusations you would think PETA would learn from their past mistakes. I personally like PETA (people eating tasty animals).

  6. I agree with the sentiments of how we treat animals. Circuses are fun but do they need animals to survive? No. We can still have the acrobats and the motorcycles in cages.

    I have always stood against animal cruelty and if you don't like what PETA has to say because of its organization, take a look at what the Humane Society, which is the respected Animal Welfare group, has to say:

    I applaud Trammell for speaking out against cruelty to animals even if it is with the help of a group that is too controversial for most Americans.


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