Not everyone is excited when the circus comes to town.
Far from it, in fact. The hardships circus animals face have never been more publicized or widely regarded as cruel. And public opinion can be a force to reckon with. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus deflated its big top for the last time this year, CNN reported, blaming a sharp decline in ticket sales after the diligent efforts of animal advocacy groups convinced the company to remove elephants from its show.
“Ringling’s action is a signal to every other animal-based circus that their business model must change,” Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in January. “Kids and other members of the public know too much about the backstory of misery, toil and coercive training to keep patronizing these businesses.”
The changes Pacelle demands are coming, however incrementally, and they’re being made by ordinary people. There are plenty of options when it comes to enjoying animals without corralling them in cages or forcing them to do dangerous stunts.
Circuses and zoos have been ingrained in American culture for more than a century—but there are plenty of alternatives. Here are five animal-approved things to do with your family, outside the big top:
5. Animal-free circus
Children enjoy this almost as much as their parents do.
A little face paint and some ad hoc scenery is all it takes to create a big top in your own backyard. The fun will occupy imaginative children, acting as the animals and the acrobats, for hours.
Adult versions can be found around the country as well. High-flying humans and clever clowns take the main stage in acts like the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, Circus Luminous, or Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.
4. Visit an animal sanctuary
There are sanctuaries for our furred, feathered, and otherwise animal friends in all 50 states. Some are dedicated to specific species and may offer tours or volunteer opportunities, depending on size.
Animals in their later years, animals with disabilities or special needs, or those rescued from difficult lives are a common sight at sanctuaries. Young animals, or those trained to perform for humans, are not. Sanctuary residents are typically there to live out the duration of their lives with uninterrupted freedom, National Geographic reports, cared for by compassionate humans.
Lena came from the worst farmed animal abuse case in the Northeast. She now roams the Sanctuary with her daughter Seneca, making new friends and happy memories that will soon replace the bad ones. #Repost @l.a.u.r.a.lentz ・・・ “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”―James Herriot
It’s important to understand the laws and safety measures a sanctuary is working with before you make a visit, as some facilities merely use the name to mask a darker intent, possibly breeding or buying exotic animals behind the scenes.
For a full list of ways to tell if an animal sanctuary is safe for animals or not, click here.
3. Take a nature hike
Enjoying the excitement of wild animals is often no more difficult that a walk through the woods.
Nature hikes offer more than just a chance to clear your mind and take in some fresh air; they connect us with the natural world, amaze us, and educate us. It’s not hard to recognize similar species once you’ve spent time looking at the various flora and fauna in your area, and logging them in a journal can provide even further insight.
Many a science career has been improved by simply taking walk. What’s to say it won’t entertain you as well?
2. Volunteer at a shelter
For those who enjoy animals and want to support them in return, becoming a shelter volunteer checks all the right boxes.
Shelter volunteers help with rescue efforts by keeping the facility clean, water dishes full, and the animals happy, so control officers and veterinarians can concentrate on their jobs.
It’s hardly a thankless job either, as volunteers are greeted daily by affirming barks and curious meows in no short supply.
1. Home theater
There’s nothing wrong with staying in and watching a little TV, so long as it’s educational, right? With all the nature documentaries and media available at your fingertips, it’s almost hard not to learn something new.
Children enjoy reading books about animals, and starting them off early with a compassionate mindset is always a good plan. Zoo Check recommends having your child read back to you, increasing comprehension.
Those with a streaming service are likely already aware of the hours of animal features available to watch, but free content can be found just as easily on YouTube.
Do you feel easily deceived when it comes to dogs, or are you at the top of your trivia game? Click the link below to find our list of canine myths, and see if you know fact from fiction!
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
Help Rescue Animals
Provide food and vital supplies to shelter pets at The Animal Rescue Site for free! →