To the Editor:
Bar Harbor is a town of animal lovers and a progressive place for issues affecting Maine and our country. In keeping with these characteristics, we hope that on Dec. 5, the Town Council will support ordinances addressing puppy mills and the use of wild animals in traveling acts.
Abundant evidence from government documents, undercover video and whistleblower reports indicates that life in circuses or other traveling shows is anything but fun for animals. They are trained with pain and the fear of punishment, bullied to perform silly tricks, forced to endure extreme confinement while chained in trucks and trailers during months of grueling travel each year and are routinely denied natural behaviors, proper veterinary care and adequate exercise.
Having wild animals do tricks in traveling acts does nothing to educate the public about their ecology, natural behaviors or lives. It doesn’t teach our children empathy or to respect animals. In fact, it sends the wrong message: that it is acceptable to exploit animals for our amusement. There are many alternative forms of entertainment that are fun, exciting and family-friendly.
The use of wild animals in circuses also poses a serious public safety threat. Animal handlers cannot protect themselves, let alone the public, when a wild animal rebels. Earlier this year, the Anah Shrine Circus in Bangor leased elephants from R.W. Commerford and Sons to perform in the shows and provide rides. One of those elephants, Minnie, has been involved in three dangerous incidents while giving rides to children. While we’re fortunate that such an incident has yet to happen in Maine, it is only a matter of time if such performances are allowed to continue.
To date, three states and more than 130 other municipalities have enacted restrictions governing the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows. As more municipalities join them, shows turn to cities and towns that don’t have ordinances to pitch their tents. By supporting this ordinance, Bar Harbor will be letting them know they’re not welcome and be a leading town in Maine on this issue.
With respect to puppy mills, in each of its last three internal audits, the USDA concluded its inspectors turn a blind eye to horrific violations by licensees and are ineffective at deterring bad actors or preventing inhumane conditions. Accordingly, the fact that a commercial breeding facility is USDA-inspected means very little. The reality is that most USDA-licensed breeders house dozens or even hundreds of dogs in small wire cages for their entire lives.
Additionally, a 2013 study published by the “Journal of American Veterinary Medicine” concluded that obtaining dogs from pet stores versus noncommercial breeders represented a significant risk factor for the development of a wide range of undesirable behavioral characteristics, especially aggressive behavior.
Undercover investigations show time and time again that pet stores lie about where they obtain their dogs. Consumers are essentially tricked into supporting the cruel puppy mill industry and buying sick and behaviorally challenged dogs. The bottom line is that reputable and responsible breeders do not sell to pet shops.
More than 240 local governments and one state have pet shop sales bans. These laws effectively drive the market toward pet adoption and responsible dog breeders, and pet stores have thrived after switching to a humane model of offering puppies and kittens for adoption from nearby shelters as it brings in new customers and attracts positive media attention. Unlike USDA inspections, such laws have been effective in providing an incentive for the commercial breeding industry to clean up its act.
This ordinance will serve the best interests of Bar Harbor residents and their pets. It will place important restrictions on a channel of distribution for substandard breeding operations by ensuring that Bar Harbor pet stores do not sell puppies and kittens from commercial breeders and increase the demand for cats and dogs from responsible breeders, animal shelters and rescue organizations while also setting a precedent for nearby towns to follow.
We urge Bar Harbor residents to contact their town councilors and ask them to support these two ordinances, the passage of which will help raise awareness about animal welfare and promote humane values within our town by sending a clear message that Bar Harbor will not tolerate such cruel practices.