A Night at the Circus

We took our twins to the circus for their seventh birthday. It was all of our first time at a real Barnum and Bailey “Greatest Show on Earth” experience. I was excited. We were going to introduce the boys to the magic and mystery of humans conquering gravity, fear and doing the impossible. They were going to gain a love and awareness of animals. They were going to giggle at these animals doing tricks. Tigers sitting on chairs, waiting to amaze us with how domesticated they could be. Poodles dancing with each other. Horses twirling in sync. Elephants…

Yeah. The elephants.

Here’s where the spell was broken for me.

As the dozen or so large gray bodies filled the arena, a wave of sadness hit me. It hit me so hard, I was suddenly blinking back tears. Sorrow. That’s what I was feeling and then panic, because I had no idea where it was coming from or how I was going to keep from scaring the kids around me by breaking down. I held my breath and concentrated on the steel scaffolding and lights above me. When I got the tears under control, I worked on breathing through the suffocating, oppressive emotion. I told myself to feel it and let it go because this is what I’ve been practicing.

It helped. It helped me look at the elephants again. We were in the front, so I could see right into one big brown eye. I made myself keep looking. Made myself see. See the gentle soul within that massive body. My heart broke for him. I promised him and myself that I would research their living conditions. That if there was something I could do to change their lot in life, I would do it.

I enjoyed other parts of the circus. Watching the humans, who had a choice, perform mind-boggling acts of strength and grace. I enjoyed the boys’ wide-eyed innocence as they watched the daring tight-rope walkers, the clown on ten foot stilts, a girl shot out of a cannon and the acrobatics that rivaled the Olympics.

Girl being shot from a cannon

And I’m glad that I experienced something else. I’m not quite sure what it was, really. I’m not even saying the elephants don’t live a great life full of peanuts and massages. But the pain was real and it wasn’t mine. Until that night.

“Having no idea is the doorway to realization.” Karen Maezen Miller 

I’ve only begun to look into their story so I can’t claim to know any facts. But if this is something that speaks to you and you’d like to help you can sign this petition. I don’t know if it will make any difference but it’s a step through the door.

How do you feel about animals in the circus? Have you ever experienced anything like this? Please share.



7 thoughts on “A Night at the Circus

  1. Coleen Patrick

    We used to go to the circus almost every year, until I saw a news report about the elephants. Then I just couldn’t do it anymore. I think you’re right, it’s the choice factor that gets me.

  2. Marcy Kennedy

    I’m torn on this one, so I’m not going to claim to know exactly how I feel. I will share why I can’t make up my mind. The first thing is that living conditions in the wild, while full of freedom, aren’t always wonderful. Hunger, drought, and predators (probably only human ones for elephants) can make life as miserable in the wild as in captivity. The second is how much many dogs I know love learning tricks and competing in agility trials. Now, I know dogs are domesticated, but I think the bigger principle applies. If an intelligent animal finds an activity fun and mentally stimulating, they won’t care where they are when they do that activity. The third is that I think it can be dangerous to generalize about conditions in zoos and conditions in circuses, etc. One circus might treat their animals like gold, spoiling them and loving them. Another circus might have multiple people who should be arrested for animal abuse.

    I know I just threw more mud into the waters, but this is truly something that I go back and forth on frequently, and I’m still not certain where I stand.

    1. Shannon Esposito Post author

      It would be great if they found it fun and stimulating. They are very intelligent animals. But, honestly, I know what I felt that night when they filled the room and it wasn’t coming from within me. I had just been smiling and laughing with my kids. So, I have a hard time believing that those particular animals were happy.

  3. Debra Kristi

    I’m sort of in the same boat as Marcy. I feel like every circus act needs to be investigated on its own in these circumstances. Maybe they are better off in the wild, maybe not. It’s hard to say without a genuine elephant whisperer who can translate for us. But I have been so torn on the subject that I have stayed away from the circus since I was a child. My kids ask about it when they set up here every year, but we won’t go.

    1. Shannon Esposito Post author

      An elephant whisperer would be great. 🙂 I won’t take my kids again. I know each circus is different with different ways of treating their animals but the videos I’ve seen in the past few days are horrifying. I wouldn’t be able to get those images out of my head.

  4. Karen McFarland

    Hi Shannon. You poor thing. What a shock! How you composed yourself is beyond me. I have to say that I don’t recall attending a circus in person with or without our boys. Although as a young child, we did watch it on T.V. I can imagine that sitting in the front row, LIVE, would make a huge difference and that it could affect you emotionally. Well, at least the boys had fun and your family enjoyed your evening together. Take care Shannon. {{Hugs!}}


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