As someone who suffered serious burns and still bears the scars, I know Shrine Hospitals do some terrific work for children. But in filing suit against the city of Pittsburgh to fight regulations that protect animals, the Syria Shriners are not only squandering money, they are swimming against the tide of public opinion against exploiting animals in circuses.
Pittsburgh’s law, which the Syria Shriners wish to overturn, bans the use of bullhooks (sharp-metal-tipped batons), whips and other weapons “capable of inflicting pain, intimidating or threatening pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of a wild or exotic animal.” Who could possibly oppose a law that protects animals from being hit, jabbed, whipped and beaten?
Lawmakers around the world are imposing bans against traveling animal acts – and for good reason. Animals would never perform grotesquely atypical behaviors like headstands on command without the constant threat of punishment.
When not performing, wide-ranging animals like tigers and lions languish in cramped, filthy cages in which they can barely move. Elephants spend most of their time tightly chained.
If the Shriners are to uphold any measure of ethical integrity, they must stop hiring animal circuses and embrace animal protection laws instead of fighting them.
Jennifer O'Connor is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.