Once upon an elephant in Pasadena: Considering the treatment of animals

Quite a few years ago, I had the opportunity to take a ride-along with the Pasadena Humane Society. The event was the presence of an elephant at a local school fundraising event. The Pasadena Humane Society was there to monitor the treatment of the circus animals (which included the more usual domestic animals such as horses, ponies, dogs and goats). People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were also going to be in attendance and it was my first experience with PETA.

Originally, as required by law, the PETA protesters were across the street, holding up signs. However, apparently feeling they weren’t getting enough attention, they went into a huddle and then one man crossed over on to the school property. Anyone, including reporters, needs to get permission to enter public school grounds and surely PETA knew this would mean an arrest. They had a photographer follow in to record the incident.

Prior to the arrest, one animal control officer pointed out to me that there were actual minor violations, however, these were with the routine domestic animals (horse, pony and goat as I recall) relating to the distance between the animals and water. PETA didn’t seem to be concerned with these animals.

In Asia, elephants have been domesticated since the Harappan Civilization (3300-1200 BCE) when the first record appear. The clearest evidence of the domestication of the horse is from chariot burials dated around 2000 BCE.What is a domestic animal might be part of a cultural divide.

What were and continue to be the traditional methods of training elephants in Asia? I’m not sure. I do wonder if PETA protests those methods there. In any case, current methods of training dogs and horses can sometimes be characterized as cruel. I’ve seen a choke chain being used to nearly choke a dog at a training session in Pasadena.

The term “breaking” a horse is about brutality and terror which is why the Natural Horsemanship comes as a revelation to some as can be seen in the movie “Buck.” Yet cruelty to animals sometimes also comes out of kindness which is why you sometimes really have to be cruel to be kind.

How do I mean that? Monty Roberts in his book talks about such a case and “Buck” also shows us a victim of such well-intentioned kindness. Another movie, specifically about elephants showed that kindness and love sometimes aren’t enough.

Are there dogs made dangerous by overindulgent owners? Everyday, including at the dog park. I was seriously injured at the Pasadena dog park and my dog died of his injuries because of such an owner.

More often than elephants, it is dogs and cats that are the targets of cruelty. How often do we have elephants in our midst–particularly in the Pasadena area?

Recently, the city of Sierra Madre had hoped to bring some exotic excitement to their parade by inviting Tai, an elephant owned and trained by the Riverside-based company, Have Trunk Will Travel, to be in their Independence Day parade. Tai is a bit of a celebrity now, having been in the recent movie “Water for Elephants” and a Britney Spears’ video among other things. PETA and Animal Defenders International activists planned to protest at the parade.

The Animal Defenders International had already brought out an edited video to highlight abuse soon after 20th Century Fox’s film “Water for Elephants” premiered. Tai was one of the elephants used in that film.

Ultimately, the Independence Day event in Sierra Madre wasn’t about elephants, but it was about people as the mayor John Buchanan told KTLA, “This parade is about the independence of our country and the city of Sierra Madre and is not about an elephant,” after news came that Tai would not make an appearance.

I wonder if there were horses and even performing dogs at this parade and if PETA was just as concerned about how they were trained or it there’s only enough time and money to pay attention to elephants.

In any case, the allegations were responded to at the time of the “Water for Elephants” screenings (in May) on the official website. One response wonders why the Animal Defenders International waited six years to bring the six-minute video to light.

At no point does there seem to have been abuse on the set of “Water for Elephants.” The movie opened in the U.S. on 22 April 2011, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattison and features a performance by Hal Holbrook.

The question of animal abuse also comes out in another recent movie “Project Nim.”  For that movie, I have actually attempted to contact both PETA and the Animal Liberation Front, but as of today, have received no response.  “Project Nim” will open in Los Angeles (and Pasadena) on 15 July 2011.



Animal Defenders International article and video

KTLA report

The Patch

Have Trunk Will Travel

Water for Elephants

Review by Roger Ebert of “Water for Elephants.”

Review by Jana Monji of “Buck”

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