By Will Coggin
NYCLASS isn’t a one-trick pony anymore: Founded to crusade against Central Park’s carriage-horse operators, the group that spent $220,000 to elect Mayor de Blasio has now turned its attention to banning elephant acts in the Big Apple.
This campaign ostensibly is on behalf of animal welfare. But in reality, it has one target in mind: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. It’s merely the latest episode in a long-running animal-rights war to shut down the Big Top, the dirty details of which are worth keeping in mind. They reflect horribly on the ASPCA, which is a key “parent” of NYCLASS, having given it $710,000.
In 2000, the ASPCA and several other groups sued Ringling’s owner, Feld Entertainment, for violating the Endangered Species Act by harassing its Asian elephants. At issue was an “elephant guide,” a tool 120-pound trainers use to help control 3,000-pound animals.
The ASPCA charged that guides inflict excruciating pain on elephants — charges NYCLASS is recycling today. Yet the claim runs contrary to generally accepted standards in the veterinarian community. Indeed, the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians describes guides as “mildly unpleasant” to elephants and finds they’re just fine if used properly. But why let the facts get in the way of a good lawsuit and PR campaign?
After nearly a decade, the court tossed out the case with stunning findings. The judge found that the key witness, a former Feld handler who claimed he was harmed by Ringling’s use of the elephant guide, was “not credible” in his allegations and had in fact used a guide without complaint while employed by the circus. Further, his sole source of income during the litigation was from the animal-rights plaintiffs, including the ASPCA — a fact the judge said the witness had “lied” about under oath.
Feld then countersued under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, claiming that the animal-rights plaintiffs and their lawyers had conspired maliciously in pursuing the litigation. The ASPCA settled for nearly $10 million in late 2012. Other activists and the lawyers could be on the bull-hook for damages totaling tens of millions more.
The big settlement and egg on their face hasn’t deterred the activists a bit, however. To them, it’s just “doing what you gotta do” to “protect” animals. Their tactic involves getting people with a lot of time on their hands—and a well-heeled backer or two, to stage endless complaints.
But NYCLASS’s crusades against carriage-horse operators and the circus illustrate that these tactics affect more than just their named opponents, doing heavy collateral damage along the way.
It’s not just the carriage-horse operators and circus employees who’ll lose their jobs: The animals also suffer. The Associated Press recently reported that, should the city ban carriage horses, animals now being bred for the trade could wind up being sent to Mexican slaughterhouses. Feld, meanwhile, runs an elephant center in Florida where it has successfully bred over two dozen Asian elephants — an endangered species. If the circus can’t showcase these beautiful animals, that center may well close.
If NYCLASS and its allies really cared about the animals, they’d offer reasonable alternatives and truly put their money where their mouth is. They don’t. According to tax returns, NYCLASS doesn’t give any money to support horse sanctuaries. As for its allies, the $170 million ASPCA doesn’t run any horse sanctuaries, while the $120 million Humane Society of the United States (also a defendant in the RICO suit) only provides sanctuary for perhaps a few hundred horses (and despite its name, runs zero pet shelters).
Of course, there’s other grim data on how animal-rights extremists treat animals: In 2013, PETA killed 82 percent of all cats and dogs in its care, bringing the total to over 31,000 since 1998. And the Humane Society gives just 1 percent of its $120 million budget to local pet shelters — despite all its fund-raising propaganda showing cute puppies and kittens.
In short, the radical animal-rights ideology isn’t about caring for animals; it’s about stopping even the humane use of animals. The true believers use these and other tactics to take out one business at a time: carriage horses, the circus and eventually all farmers who use animals.
The animal-rights community has already had its day in court against the circus and failed. It’s time for the court of public opinion to tell them to quit harassing New York businesses.
Will Coggin is a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, which operates HumaneWatch.org