I spend part of Sunday afternoon reading the Sunday FORUM and I just came across a small item concerning "Twiggy" the water- skiing squirrel who will be "featured" at the annual Sportsmens’ show that is coming up soon at the FargoDome. The piece says "Twiggy, donning her mini life jacket, is scheduled for a series of performances during the Sportsmens’Show that kicks off…….." I bet a lot of people will go to that show just to see Twiggy the water- skiing squirrel. Animal performers are big attractions at public places such as the Sportsmens’ Show and other public venues.
I once went to a rodeo (which I despise) just to see a little monkey ride on the back of a Border Collie who was one of the star performers in the special acts division of that rodeo. I really wanted to see the Border Collie round up the livestock (sheep, I think it was) because the innate herding instincts of Border Collies which are well trained to do so, is one of the truly fascinating things you can see among dog breeds and dog abilities. A dream that is not yet fulfilled is to see the national Border Collie Competition….seeing a national competition in England or Scotland would be even better but I do not think I will make that high level of Border Collie performance. But—-the tiny monkey, dressed up as a cowboy in tiny blue jeans, plaid shirt, and tiny cowboy hat made the Border Collie’s performance absolutely hilarious as well as fascinating. The dog did not even acknowlege the "monkey on his back"…didn’t even know it was there, so intent is a Border Collie upon rounding up sheep or cattle or whatever animal is handy (our Border Collie "Mac" used to "round up" our daughter- in- law’s Springer Spaniel when the spaniel chased tennis balls; Mac rounded me up when I came back from the mailbox each day) The Border Collie/monkey act was great; the rest of the rodeo was brutal and awful but I loved the BC act with the monkey locked into the tiny saddle on the dog’s back. I remember I laughed a lot…but later I wondered about the monkey and whether its life span was much shorter due to constant whiplashes riding on the back of that eager Border Collie.
We once went to the Red River Valley Fair, attracted by the promise of "pig races" and we were not disappointed. A group of 6-8 little pink piggies raced madly around a miniature racing track…..all of them spurred on by being trained to get an oreo cookie at the end of the race. The running pigs put the bleacher audience into howls of laughter and seeing them claim their oreos was even funnier. They all wanted to race again.
Just a few days ago, a whale trainer was killed by an Orca (Killer Whale) at one of the many "ocean show" sites around the country. I recall seeing such a show when I went along with the high school band to Washington DC when one of my sons was a band member years ago. Those trained Killer Whales are huge mammals and they can leap to amazing heights after swimming rapidly around and around a large tank of water. The Emcee warned the folks who were sitting in one spot in the bleachers to move or they would be sorry. Many stayed and at one point in the water show which included performing dolphins and seals as well as the Killer Whale, the Orca leaped into the air and came down with a tremendous splashing smack, directly in front of those who had been warned to move …..they were doused with a tidal wave of tank water as the huge water mammal landed and sent huge sheets of water onto the spectators. It was a hot humid day so at least they got relief which the rest of us did not.
My question is this: is it right or good to take wild animals out of their natural environments and train them to perform for the pleasure of humans? Can a Killer Whale be blamed for killing a trainer when this is what the animal does in the wild environment? I have read that the trainer who died had a long braid which was swinging in the whale’s face at the time it attacked her. Would it have been far better to let that little monkey stay in its rain forest or its jungle instead of being locked on the back of an eager Border Collie at many rodeos that summer? Would the racing "oreo-pigs" have been better off just staying back in their farm environments enjoying their wallows and eating their pig feed instead of oreo cookies. Was racing them for people’s amusement a natural thing for pigs to do????
As one who has been entertained by performing animals—seals, dolphins, dogs, monkeys, pigs, bears, tigers,and lions, I cannot say that I did not enjoy watching any of it. But I do think, after the entertainment is all over, was that really good for those performing animals?
One unexpected time of great and funny animal "performance" came at a past Home or Sportsmens’ Show in the Fargo Dome. I was there with my family—husband, one son and 3 grandkids who were yet young enough to love going places with "Gramma and Grampa". We perched in the far end of the dome seats on the west side and looked down on a perfomance by a large group of dogs who were "students" at the F-M Obedience School For Dogs. First the Beginners demonstrated their skills which were minimal but interesting; then the Intermediates showed their stuff; finally the Advanced dogs ran through their paces and they were really well- trained. All of these dogs had learned to be obedient and do interesting maneuvers and the trainers and owners had done a great job with all three groups. At the end of the three performances, the owners formed a huge circle with their dogs on leashes and paraded them around the circle. At that point, my grandkids and I ended up in a heap from laughing at what was surely the most natural return to "doggy behavior" that could not be removed from any of the dogs, large or small. As every dog in the circle paraded around, each one was sniffing the butt of the dog ahead of them! (Hello! My name is Sparky and you smell wonderful!) I can still remember hanging onto my grandkids and my grandkids hanging on to me as we all laughed til we were weak and our eyes were running with laugh-tears! Dogs will be dogs. And Monkeys will be monkeys…pigs will be pigs and , unfortunately, Orcas will resort to being Orcas.
Performing animals cannot be the best thing for the animals but they surely draw crowds to watch them do unnatural things…things they would not be doing in their wild environments.I feel sorry for these animals who live a very unnatural life as trained performers. I would probably hate it if I were a dog, a pig, a monkey or a whale!