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Shrine policies questioned by New York Animal Rights Group

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Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin - New York

Civic groups should be civil to animals

Thursday April 19, 2007

By Carol Miller

Raising money for worthwhile programs is an inherent part of any charitable organization's work. From full-out galas to car washes, lotteries and cookie sales, the scope and scale of charitable fundraisers can vary widely.

Many national or regional organizations -- such as the United Way of America, the Jaycees, Rotary International, Shriners, and the PTA -- allow their chapters to hold cruel animal-based events as fundraisers. Circuses, rodeos, greased-pig contests, donkey basketball games, raffles offering puppies as prizes, and similar events use animals for cheap laughs, and the money raised at the animals' expense. Given the vast number of ways to raise money, these organizations don't have to abuse and exploit animals.

Defended under the guise of "tradition," circuses force animals to perform confusing and often painful acts. The animals, most of whom are quite large and naturally active, are forced to spend most of their lives in the small cages used transport them, and they are allowed out only for the short periods when they must "perform." Physical punishment has long been the standard training method for animals in circuses. The federal Animal Welfare Act puts no restrictions on what training methods may be used. The tricks that animals are forced to perform -- bears balancing on balls, apes riding motorcycles, elephants standing on two legs -- are physically uncomfortable and behaviorally unnatural. The whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bull hooks and other tools used during circus acts are reminders that the animals are being forced to perform.

An April 15 letter to Shriners International Headquarters from Nicholas Trammell (a former Shriner who disassociated himself from his lodge because of the cruelty he witnessed behind the scenes of a circus) suggests that the Shrine replace circuses with fundraisers that have been successful elsewhere, such as golf tournaments, car shows, festivals and dance-a-thons.

"I have learned that physical punishment has long been the standard training method for animals in circuses," Trammell writes. "As the world's greatest philanthropy, I urge you to show the world the compassion that the Shrine is famous for by ending affiliation with circuses that use animals."

Despite numerous cruel and dangerous incidents, Shriners continues to use circuses, with funds raised going toward the temple's administrative costs, not the hospitals. If your local Shriners hosts a circus, please contact the local lodge and politely request they eliminate circus fundraisers or change to an all- human circus. The human performers are exemplary and will leave you in awe of their perfection. Animals no longer need to suffer for seven to 12 minutes of performance twice a day, be chained, caged and left to horrific treatment, and live out of rail cars and trucks for 11 months of the year.

We know from experience that Shrine brothers have professed to be kind and good men. We hope that they will put aside any defensive feelings and objectively examine the wealth of information that shows what really goes on behind the scenes at circuses.

Given the vast array of alternatives to these and other such events, implementing a policy against animal-based fundraisers should be one of the simplest decisions a charity and our local Shrine temple's board of directors can make.

Miller of Endwell wrote this with concerned citizens resurrecting B.A.R.C. (Binghamton Animal Rights Coalition) -- Max Novack, Justin O'Brien and Cassarah Decker -- all of Binghamton.

Further Reading:

The Royal Order of Jesters - The Shriners Secret Society Secret Society - 'Mirth is King'

The Shriners - The 'Krafty' Klowns