As the lovely cat paced back and forth in his tiny cage, patiently but somewhat insistently nudging his head on the bars in the direction of the woman standing right outside, he seemed to me to be pleading to be petted. I couldn’t help but think how sad it was that the woman didn’t just open the door and set the cat free. No matter how many times I see this at the shelter, my immediate reaction seems to always be the same. Set them free! And it was no different this time either.

Except this cat was a 500 pound tiger!

And of course I was visiting the circus rather than our shelter.

Ordinarily I do not go to the circus but hoping to calm a little of the outrage that seemed to be overflowing on our Facebook group earlier this summer, I visited the circus setting up at our local mall. While I suspected there was nothing we could do as the law does not support my views on proper treatment of most any animal, and with no visible signs of neglect or abuse, plenty of water, and no noticeable malnourishment or visible injury, we were left to reassure our followers that the animals were “okay”. Actually I think what I wrote was that while what I saw was immoral and sad, it was not illegal. As such we’d be moving on from this topic and removing the posts associated with this issue from our Facebook page.

Well that proclamation and resultant action did not stem the fury of some. In fact there were those that seemed to think we were shirking our responsibilities. We should rally a protest. And others suggested we should be doing more to educate the public in this matter. A missed opportunity.

Then I was then accused of saying that these animals were not important.

My response to that then and still is that the circus animals were not emergent. The animals in our shelter were. Especially this time of year when we are receiving hundreds of cats and every kennel is full with more coming in the door. To me and all our staff, the animals that might die because we run out of room in our shelter must be our priority.

Somehow using our vital social media space with discussion of the circus rather than for these animals seems not only wasteful but in some ways negligent. Irresponsible! How about this….“Sorry staff that you had to euthanize those cats today but we had to use our Facebook group to discuss the circus that was in town rather than promote our own homeless animals.”

So we took the posts down, weathered the criticism and moved on.  Or so I thought.

As often is the case my blogs are the result of something that gets in my head and I’m unable to let it go. Either because it’s unresolved or unsettling or just annoying. So here I am, weeks later and I’m still wallowing around one word in my head. Important.

To the extent that I looked it up –

 Synonyms: vital, crucial, key, main.

 Definition: of great significance

By that definition the circus animals were not and are not important to me.

Truly the animals that are in our shelter needing our help pretty much have to be the main, crucial, vital priority of all of us. For that matter I’d like them also to be the main, key, crucial priority to animal lovers in our community too. But suspect that is expecting a bit too much. But at a minimum I will make them the main topic on our Facebook group. Seems the least I can do.

Ironic that I can easily recall attending an animal welfare conference where PETA’s exhibit was a video about the mistreatment of elephants. And while I admittedly was horrified by the video, I also remember that I thought that if and when the time came that elephants could be my priority, that it would be a great sign of the progress we had made. It would surely mean we had solved the BIG problems in our community.

No, I don’t go to the circus. For that matter I no longer eat factory farmed meat or even buy Amish cheese. I wouldn’t buy a bag of cat food at PetLand. But nope, I didn’t picket outside of the circus. Maybe one day I’ll have time for that but for now with main concerns for the 200 homeless animals in our shelter and foster care, the four litters of foster puppies and kittens sharing my abode, my own pets, and a full time job to pay the bills, I don’t see myself making the circus my priority any time soon.

And while I hoped some of the outraged Facebook people would have time for such, I wouldn’t accompany them. While some part of me wanted to tell people that such protests are less effective than lobbying your city, county and state government officials for change, I’ve come to learn that most people like the excitement and drama of the visible display of displeasure much more than the strategic and tactical approach to problem solving. Letter writing, lobbying and bugging the hell out of government officials is just not as exciting.

I’d like to think that some of the angry masses that were so “loud” on our Facebook page that day would not let this issue drop now that the circus has left town and would take up that cause. But honestly I’m not confident about it either. Mainly because the circus is no longer quite so visible.

Too often we react to what we see for the first time or infrequently. Once commonplace we seem to dull to it. For example, walking into our shelter or most any shelter is no longer an emotional experience for me. Accustomed but not immune, I’ve seen too much to become too emotional about much of it now and yet I am not dull to the need to change things for the animals that need me.

Seeing the tigers in the small cages caused outrage for many and I suspect it was the newness and nearness of them. Their caged existence was of no surprise to me. Just very near.

To those that were so outraged and seemed to feel strongly motivated to try and do something about them or wanted someone to do something about them, I want to pose the following.

First, you could be that someone! If you feel it is important then make it your purpose.

Second, I’d ask you if you feel the same about the cats in the cages in our shelter? Those that are living in cages that are too small. Those that are begging for attention and a single pat and to be set free. What are you doing to help them?

Thirdly, what do you feel when you see the dogs chained to dog houses in backyards EVERYWHERE in our state? I know you see them. There is no way not to. And yet I wonder where is the outrage for these “confined” animals.

All of which is why the word “important” is still rolling around in my head. The woman was right! The ten tigers in those cages or the elephants chained under that tent are not and were not important to me.

While they made me feel sad and in some ways angry, they are not of great significance to me or vital to my daily focus. I hope they are someone’s but they aren’t going to be mine. Not anytime soon anyway as I realized some time ago I can’t fight every fight. And our shelter, as strong as we are, can’t be the solution to every problem. For now, we will focus on the thousands of needy animals that come through our door each year that we have committed to try and help. Sadly we can’t even help save all of them…not yet anyway.

And if and when you see me picketing the circus, you should assume that all the other real problems have been solved. Until then, the tigers will just have to wait.

Categories: Shelter Facts


4 replies

  1. Nice Carrie..and to the point exactly!!


  2. We all have problems with the circus animals and would love to help, but you are right, we have a dire need here. We need to continue to educate in our own niegborhoods about spay and neuter. And, of course to not shop, but, adopt. I for one commend you, your staff and the wonderful volunteers for all that you do. We are so lucky to have an organization,HSOP here. Thank you all.

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