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What is life like for a performance animal?

Animals in circuses typically travel 11 months of the year, a lifestyle that makes it impossible to meet the needs of wild animals.  While they’re traveling, animals spend long periods of time in confinement and social isolation.  They’re denied the opportunity to exercise, socialize, forage and play.  During travel elephants are typically chained inside of boxcars or trucks.  Lions and tigers are usually kept in small travel cages only large enough to stand up and turn around.  Trucks and trains are not always heated or air-conditioned, and they might go long periods of time without food and water.  The only time animals aren’t confined is when they’re forced to perform. 


How do they get the animals to perform?

Animals do not choose to perform - they are forced to perform.  The actions performed by circus animals are often completely unnatural to them; in the wild, elephants do not walk on two feet and bears do not ride tricycles.  The methods used train these behaviors often include intimidation, physical abuse and deprivation of food and water.  Many undercover investigations have provided evidence of animals getting beaten with whips and bull hooks, and shocked with electric prods to perform their routines.  Yet even persistent violators of the Animal Welfare Act are rarely prosecuted.


Are circuses safe to attend?

There have been hundreds of instances of animals, trainers, and audience members being hurt and even killed at circuses.  No matter how much training an animal has had, wild animals will always remain unpredictable.  The stress of enduring abuse and an unnatural lifestyle often builds until the animal finally lashes out.  Many trainers have been injured in animal attacks, and audience members have been hurt as well when animals attempt to flee and manage to get past the barriers.  If it becomes difficult to recapture the escaped animal, it is usually killed in the name of public safety. 


What happens when an animal can no longer perform?

Animals do not enjoy a nice retirement when their performance days are over.   Instead they are usually sold to roadside zoos, research labs, or into the exotic pet trade where their lives are equally miserable. 


What can I do to help?

Every dollar you spend on entertainment is a vote on whether animals are exploited in the process.  If you believe circus animals are treated unjustly, don’t attend any circuses that include animals in their show.  There are dozens of circuses that perform throughout the U.S. which provide entertainment without the use of animals. 


Fight for state and federal laws that protect animals and raise the standards of care.  Current laws are weak and poorly enforced.  Some areas have succeeded in keeping circuses away by banning exotic animal performances in their city.  Educate friends and family members about what life is really like for these exotic animals, and encourage them not to bring their children to circuses that include animals. 


How do the dogs get involved in racing?

Racing greyhounds are born on breeding farms which produce thousands of puppies each year.  Of these, only a select few will grow to meet racing standards and actually become racing dogs.  The rest are destroyed, or are sold to laboratories to be used in experiments.


What is life like for a racing dog?

Racing dogs are not kept as family pets.  They’re housed at racetracks in warehouses, and spend the majority of their lives confined in crates - typically for 20 or more hours per day.  These crates are only big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around.  Most are not heated or air-conditioned during extreme weather, despite their minimal coats.  They race 1-2 times per week.


As a breed, Greyhounds love to run.  But the nature of racing on a track in a variety of extreme weather conditions with many other dogs puts them at high risk for injury.  Thousands of dogs are seriously injured every year, suffering from broken bones, paralysis and death by cardiac arrest.  Some test positive for serious drugs, like steroids and cocaine.   


What happens when their career is over?

Greyhounds have a natural lifespan of 12-14 years.  But their racing careers typically end between 2 - 5 years of age.  Some are injured, have little desire to race, or are too slow to be profitable.  Up until 1980 all retirees were destroyed.  Now some are lucky enough to be placed with a rescue group and finally get to experience life in a home.  A few dogs that had highly successful careers are returned back to breeding farms.


What can I do to help Greyhounds?

Every dollar you spend on entertainment is a vote on whether animals are exploited in the process.  If you believe greyhounds used in racing are being treated unjustly, don’t attend greyhound races.  Choose a form of gambling that doesn’t involve animals.  Greyhound racing currently actively takes place in 7 states (AL, AR, AZ, IA, FL, TX and WV), and is actually banned in 39 states. It is legal in CT, KS, OR, and WI but there are no tracks.  


There are many rescue groups dedicated to re-homing retired racing dogs.  If you’re thinking about adopting, consider a greyhound!  Ex-racing dogs can make great family pets and tend to have very gentle and quiet dispositions.  Since greyhounds are sprinters instead of endurance racers, they actually require less exercise than most other breeds and tend to be couch potatoes.


    History of the Race                                                                                

    Contrary to popular belief, the Iditarod race was not created to mimic the serum ride from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.  The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began in 1967 as two 25 mile races to honor mushers and sled dogs.  The race took place over a portion of the Historical Iditarod Trail and ended in Nome. In 1973 they expanded it into the 1,150 mile event it is today. 

    Very little of today’s Iditarod resembles the serum run.  When the disease diphtheria struck in Nome, the medicine that was needed to treat the disease was located in Anchorage.  A train carried the serum to the town of Nenana.  Twenty different dog teams then transported the medicine in a relay race 674 miles to Nome in a remarkable time of 27.5 hours, with no dog running more than 92 miles.  The race trail today is twice as long and covers only a portion of the historical trail.

     The Race                                                                                                

    Today’s Iditarod race covers 1,150 miles between Anchorage and Nome and typically takes 9-12 days to complete.  (The 2011 winner came in under 9 days.)  This is the equivalent of dogs traveling from NY to Miami, or L.A. to Seattle, running 125 miles per day for 9 days.  There are typically 1,000 dogs per race and approximately 70 teams competing.  Each team consists of 1 musher with 12-16 dogs, of which at least 6 must finish the race.  Checkpoints along the trail are staffed by veterinarians, but there is no requirement for the dogs to be examined by a vet.  Each team is required to take one 24 hr break and two 8 hr breaks. In most states keeping a dog outdoors in extreme weather would be animal cruelty, but in the Iditarod it’s actually required for dogs to remain outdoors, even during breaks.  The race takes place in early March, and teams frequently race through blizzards in –50 degree F temperatures and 60-80 mph winds. 

     Injuries & Death

    On average, 53% of the dogs don’t finish the race due to injury, illness or death.  At least 1 dog usually dies per race, though in 2008 three dogs died, and in 2009 five dogs died.  At least 140 dogs have died since they began keeping record in 1973.  It is unknown how many dogs die afterwards from race-related injuries, or during the training season.  Recent reports state 81% of dogs have lung damage after finishing, and 61% have ulcers.  Dogs typically succumb to hypothermia, gastric ulcers, pneumonia, heart failure, or “Sled Dog Myopathy” in which the dog literally runs to death.  Some dogs are killed getting strangled by towlines, hit by snow machines or getting gouged by the sled.  Their feet often become bruised and bloodied, they pull muscles, and suffer stress fractures.  There are no rules against mushers whipping the dogs, and there have been numerous eye-witness accounts of mushers hitting dogs that are too sick or exhausted to run any more. Alaska’s anti-cruelty law specifically exempts “generally accepted dog mushing or pulling contests.”

    Not every dog bred for sled racing is a fast runner.  It is common practice for puppies to be killed if they don’t meet high standards. In Alaska the nearest vet might be a few hours away, so often dogs are simply shot or bludgeoned rather than humanely euthanized.  The dogs that do survive the culling are not kept inside the house as a cherished family pet.  They typically live outdoors on short chains with substandard kennels.


    What Can I do to Help?

    Large corporations are largely responsible for keeping the Iditarod alive.  Sponsorship is the biggest source of revenue for the race, and the top 30 finishers receive a cash prize.  If you believe the treatment of sled dogs in the Iditarod is cruel, contact the corporate sponsors and request that they stop funding this event.  



What’s wrong with riding bucking broncos or bulls?

In order to make the horse or bull act “wild,” normally docile animals are physically provoked using electric prods, spurs and bucking straps.  While the animal is in the chute they have a bucking strap tightened around their sensitive abdomen, which causes him to buck violently in pain.  (This is why they continue to buck even after the rider falls off, until the strap is released.)  Before leaving the chute the animal is then prodded with an electrical jolt or has their tail twisted to cause additional pain.  Once in the ring, the rider kicks him with spurs for further aggravation.  These straps can also cause open wounds on their flanks.


What’s the concern with calf roping?

This event involves releasing a baby calf (~ 4 months old) from a chute and chasing it on horseback as it runs into the ring (usually because his tail has been painfully twisted).  The calf is capable of running almost 30 mph, at which point the rider lassoes the animal around its neck and yanks it to an abrupt stop.  The rider then jumps off the horse and throws the calf to the ground, stunning the animal while the rider ties up its legs.  Often the force of the rope alone on the calf’s neck knocks the animal right off his feet, and many calves suffer neck injuries, broken backs, broken legs and even death if the neck is broken.


What’s the concern with steer roping (aka steer busting)?

Steer roping is the most deadly rodeo event.  The steer is chased by a rider on horseback who ropes him in a way that flips him in the air and slams him on his back.  The sheer force of a 600 lb animal hitting the ground with such force is sometimes deadly for the animal.  As a result, this event has been banned in certain states.


What’s the concern with steer wrestling?

This event involves 2 riders – one keeps the steer running in a straight line and the other grabs the steer by his horns.  He then twists the steer’s neck until he gets him to the ground.  This event causes numerous neck injuries to the steer, and sometimes even breaks the animal’s neck.


What’s wrong with steer tailing?

Riders on horseback grab steer by the tail and attempt to spin them to the ground.  This results in broken bones, severed tails, and occasionally euthanasia when injuries are too severe.


What can I do to help?

Every dollar you spend on entertainment is a vote on whether animals are exploited in the process.  If you believe animals are treated unjustly at rodeos, don’t attend rodeo events or watch them on tv.  Educate friends and family members about this inhumane form of entertainment,

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