Most of us enjoyed Labor Day holiday as a welcome day of rest. But horses who pull carriages, elephants forced to give rides and ponies who plod in endless circles never get a day off. For them and other working animals, every day is "labor" day.
While we're relaxing by the pool or having a picnic, horses in cities across the country are pulling heavy loads for hours on end. Breathing in exhaust fumes while toiling day in and day out is debilitating and exhausting. Constantly pounding the hard pavement can leave their joints aching and sore. Horses are meant to run and graze in fields, socializing with the other members of their herds and raising their young. Instead, they labor for someone else's pleasure and profit.
And they aren't immune to the sweltering heat. Just last month, a horse pulling a heavy carriage in New York City collapsed near Central Park and was observed by horrified onlookers struggling on the ground, still attached to the carriage.
Then there are the elephants trucked around the country on the summer fair circuit in fetid tractor-trailers just to give rides. They are controlled through dominance and fear -- if they don't obey, they know they will be hit or jabbed with a bullhook, a heavy baton with a sharp steel hook on one end (picture a fireplace poker). Handlers strike elephants on the most sensitive parts of their bodies -- behind the ears, on the face and feet -- and they're pretty shameless about it. One eyewitness reported that an elephant in Ohio who was giving a ride with four children on her back was beaten with a bullhook until she screamed. Elephants are designed to wander over vast distances, and they love to swim and play in water, but those used for rides typically spend their few nonworking hours in chains.
For exhibitors looking to make a quick buck, there are few animals easier to exploit for the task than ponies. Cheap to procure, they are hardy, stoic, calm and tremendously appealing to children. Intentionally or not, overly excited kids can be rough on ponies. They may hit or kick them or yank on their tails or manes. They can be left sore and chafed from the rough tugging on their halters all day long or from tack that's ill-fitting or that has been improperly put on. And when the event is over, there's little respite: They're loaded into trucks and taken to the next venue.
Since the summer is prime earning time, horses, elephants and ponies spend days on end toiling in the scorching heat. And that's just the tip of the iceberg: Dolphins and orcas have to perform tricks in marine parks, monkeys are forced to ride dogs while strapped to their backs at fairgrounds, calves run for their lives in rodeos, often ending up slammed to the ground, Thoroughbreds drop dead on racetracks, tiger cubs are roughly handled for photo ops and much more. These animals have few opportunities to interact with others of their own species or engage in the activities that give their lives meaning. Their days are miserable and exhausting.
Long after a fairgoer heads for home with a souvenir photo or a tourist takes a selfie of a carriage ride, animals are still working. Those who pay to take a ride or watch animals perform in tawdry shows are directly responsible for this misery. Please, next time, give them a break -- don't buy a ticket.
About The Writer
Jennifer O'Connor is a senior writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.
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