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January 18, 2017

Years ago I came to the conclusion that animals were not put on this earth to entertain us; they have as much right to exist as we humans. But I have a confession to make. I didn’t always think so.


You might have heard that after one hundred and forty-six years Ringling Bros. Circus will soon be collapsing its big top for the last time. If you’re like me, you recently applauded when Ringling announced it was retiring all its elephants to an animal sanctuary. I’ve always loved animals, and when I was a kid I loved elephants more than any other. But I also loved lions and tigers and other animals that my childhood imagination transformed into fun companions, a far cry from the truth—these were predatory creatures who’d rather eat me than play with me.


Unfortunately, my parents were not in favor of pets, certainly not the large pets I desired. The rule of our household stated: No pets allowed that are too big to flush! If it was small enough to be dispatched down the toilet when it inevitably expired, I could have it. The family toilet served as a portal to infinity for countless guppies, goldfish, frogs, and lizards. None of these short-lived pets satisfied my desire for an elephant or tiger.


When I was eight I saw Walt Disney’s Toby Tyler, the tale of a young runaway who joins the circus and becomes its star performer. I have no idea if the circus in question was Ringling Bros. It didn’t matter; Ringling Bros. was the gold standard when it came to circuses. I imagine there were lots of circuses back in the day, back when being in the presence of exotic animals was more exciting that staring at an iPhone, before PETA and other animal rights groups made life for circuses difficult.


Watching Disney’s movie, and later reading The Adventures of Toby Tyler, convinced me that I needed to wrap my belongings in a tattered handkerchief tied to a stick, leave home and join the circus, where I could play all day with chimpanzees, exotic birds, dancing bears and prancing ponies. Like Toby Tyler setting out on his adventures, I was a chubby little innocent, with no idea as to the realities of living and working for a circus.


Admittedly, my thoughts of running away to a circus were puerile, but years later I still remember the fantastic adventures I spun in my mind, the places I went and the animals I trained and loved. For years I painted this fantasy, adding more and more details.


I never made it to Ringling Bros. Circus. When CJ was a toddler, Mrs. Chatterbox and I took him to a little strip mall circus. He was thrilled, but I couldn’t help noticing the tawdry costumes, the tired acts, the bored and mangy animals.


Good-bye, Ringling Bros. Circus. As a supporter of animal rights I’m glad you’re gone, mostly. Good-bye, Toby Tyler, for now anyway. I can’t give up on you completely. I spent a lot of time painting that carefree, animal-filled fantasy. The demise of Ringling Bros. might make conjuring you more difficult, but then my mind was always the Greatest Show on Earth….





Did you ever make it to a circus?  



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I did go to the circus as a child, but when I took my kids years later I was actually horrified at the condition of the animals and where they had to "live". Awful. Glad they circus is rolling up it's tents and I hope all the animals have a safe haven and room to roam.
By: Kathe W. on January 18, 2017
When I was a young girl the circus coming to town was HUGE! First their was a long parade through the town streets with all the animals and performers in costume, of course! The day of the performance the whole town was there! And at that time it was still under the big tent and there were three rings. A few years ago we took grand children to see the circus -- and it was tawdry and very poorly attended and very few animals. Times and sensibilities change and I'm glad not to see animals in cages -- but I am kind of glad I did get to see it in its heyday...
By: The Broad on January 18, 2017
Not really going to miss the circus. I only went to one as a kid and don't really remember much of it. At least there's still Cirque de Soleil I suppose.
By: PT Dilloway on January 18, 2017
I saw Ringling Bros. about twenty-five years ago on Gunther's goodbye tour. Won't miss animal acts, but it is a shame something so iconic will no longer be around.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on January 18, 2017
I saw Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey many decades ago. Hard to follow three rings at once. I have mixed emotions about zoos and circuses. In fact, I'm quite a contradiction of terms when it comes to animals. I had an uncle who really did run away and join the circus. Didn't stay, though. Served in both WWs (on Patton's staff in the second) and graduated West Point between. A fascinating man.
By: Kelly on January 18, 2017
I've been to the circus several times & I loved it--not the animal acts, though!!
By: fishducky on January 18, 2017
I've been to circus a couple of times as a child. Through my eyes, I was caught up in all the grander. Those were different times and the treatment of animals wasn't mainstream news. I'm pleased to hear they're shutting down.
By: Daniel LaFrance on January 18, 2017
My parents took us to the circus many times, and i took my kids often, too. It makes me wish they could continue, just without all the animal acts.
By: messymimi on January 18, 2017
I was in one. I went to Sarasota High and as it was the winter home for Ringling--it was not unusual for a classmates's father to be a Wallenda of the high wire or shot out of a cannon. Our school capitalized and annually put on the Sailor Circus. We took advantage of the second generation kids though anyone could learn. Average kids walked the high wire, trapeze, and Spanish web. We even had a big top, It was quite a production. I went out for high wire forgetting I was terrified of heights and ended up as a clown which I loved. We had no animal acts. That part I am grateful is over but I will miss the performers.
By: Arkansas Patti on January 18, 2017
No. I've never been to a circus. But I read "Water for Elephants." Does that count?
By: Val on January 18, 2017
Animals or not the circus could no longer compete with all the entertainment options. The last time I went it was down to one ring.
By: cranky on January 18, 2017
I think I've seen the Ringling Bros Circus, but it was back in my "yout", and I can't remember anything at all about it. But I agree, animals deserve a life, too, and I don't think God put them here to be in show biz.
By: scott park on January 18, 2017
I've never been to a circus but based on what I've read about how the animals are treated, I'm glad Ringling Brothers is going, going, gone. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on January 18, 2017
I've never been to a circus, but the animal sanctuary for the retired Ringling Brothers elephants is in the county where I live. I'd love to go there, but it's not open to visitors.
By: Pixel Peeper on January 18, 2017
I never made it to a real circus but did see some very sad little shows that as you say the costumes ragged and animals pathetic.
By: red Kline on January 18, 2017
I saw Ringling a couple of times when I was young but never liked seeing the animals because I felt sad for them. I always mad sure to sit far away from the lion and tiger cage because I hated to hear the whip. I wonder what P.T. Barnum must be saying now( certainly nothing about suckers). I do wonder about the people who worked all their lives in the circus. Where will they go now?
By: Birgit on January 18, 2017
oh yeah, my parents took us kids to Ringling Brothers circus many times. I even remember very vaguely when it was still in the big tent, before it moved indoors to the Colliseum. sad to see the circus fade away. it served so many purposes, brought fun and excitement and entertainment to rural communities, gave misfits a home and a community. I'm glad the elephants and wild animals will no longer be caged but I still think it's sad to see the circus go.
By: Ellen Abbott on January 19, 2017
Oh yes indeed. I posted about it today.
By: Tom Cochrun on January 19, 2017
I used to live in a town that advertised itself as the "Birthplace of the American Circus" and had its Elephant Hotel (currently town hall) to "prove" it. But like you, I'm glad the circus is now history.
By: Tom Sightings on January 19, 2017
I've never been to the circus either. I really didn't think of it from an animal's point of view until much later in my life. R
By: Rick Watson on January 20, 2017

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