Mar 9, 2015 - Animal Rights    14 Comments

What People Think of You Matters More Than the Facts

It doesn’t matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true…. You are what the media define you to be

~Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd

Quick question. Say you work with animals and you:

  • have facts and expert opinion on your side demonstrating your commitment to animal welfare, and a high level of animal care.
  • have trainers who tirelessly advocate for and clearly love animals
  • put your money where your mouth is, creating an amazing animal care, conservation and health, and education center
  • manage to sustain the Western Hemisphere’s largest population of an endangered species


And say you go up against a movement that:

  • relentlessly attacks and smears your reputation morning noon and night while playing fast and loose with the facts and manufacturing scandal.
  • is not above using an “essentially paid plaintiff” against you in court
  • has its lead organizations pay millions of dollars (not toward animal care or conservation) to settle a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case brought against them


In a world that made any sort of rational sense, you’d think victory would be a slam dunk. You’d think the public, the politicians, and the courts would join in a chorus and tell your opponents to take a hike — to actually do something useful with their time and donor money.

But that is not the world we live in; and the fact of the matter is that even when facts are on your side, if people are convinced you are cruel and greedy, you are going to lose. When politicians think supporting you is going to make them less popular — even though it is the right thing to do — you are going to lose.

Elephants in entertainment and Ringling Brothers in particular have been relentlessly attacked in the media by animal activists for decades. And as a result, if you were to take a poll of 100 people today, most would be aware of accusations against Ringling Bros., with a smaller percentage convinced they are the devil incarnate. Through constant repetition, it has saturated the public consciousness and simply become a part of how people think.

But of course precious few poll-takers would be aware of Ringling’s conservation efforts, or the groundless and unreasonable lawsuit against Feld Entertainment that led to the ASPCA, HSUS, and others to paying Feld tens of millions of dollars to settle a RICO case.

So should it be any surprise at all that after years of fighting, they finally just said “enough”?

This is a tragedy for everybody whose interest and passion for elephants — perhaps all animals — was sparked by the opportunity of seeing one of these magnificent creatures in real life, it is a tragedy for the Asian elephants themselves whose plight in the wild will now surely receive less effort and exposure, and it is a tragedy for the triumph of countless lies and smears from the animal rights lobby.

Let this be a warning to all of you who care about these issues, but tell yourself that facts, science, reason, and truth will prevail at the end of the day: because when it comes to your existence, if people don’t know or believe the facts, they do not matter. What matters is what the public thinks of you, how you are perceived, and what you are associated with. You are up against a relentless foe who does not care about reason or facts, one whose ultimate goal is your extinction. Science will not win against this onslaught, the only hope is to make sure people know who you are and taking charge of your own narrative. Whether you love purebred dogs or horse carriages, whether you are a farmer or a researcher or a hunter: when their campaign to destroy your animals, your hobbies, your livelihood comes to your doorstep, if everybody is already convinced you are beneath contempt because others were allowed to define you… it may be too late.

Support the groups who support you; if you don’t write your narrative, somebody else will!

Greatest Show on Earth

  • Sandy Wallis

    I have been dismayed by the jubilation I see about Ringling Brothers’ decision on their elephants. I don’t know much about elephants. I do however have a lifetime’s experience (60 years) with horses. I have been following the carriage horse issue closely for a little over a year now, and I was totally amazed and dismayed at the ridiculous accusations made against the carriage horse industry without a shred of real evidence. The tide finally began to turn for them when they (and their supporters) started posting pictures with the names of the horses and drivers and putting a face on both the people and the horses. That backed up by a myriad of horse people who have no ties to the carriage industry weighing in with facts and education and the tide seems to have begun to turn. I would like to see the circus do the same thing. Introduce the elephants to the public as individuals. Show the bond between elephants and handlers. Explain the difference between Asian and African elephants. Publicize their sanctuary. Maybe it won’t help enough to save them, but it sure couldn’t hurt.

    • Donwanna Behere

      What is most disconcerting is the way the NYC media turns to groups like NYCLASS, whose leader, Allie Feldman is unbelievably ignorant about horses in particular, and animals in general, for opinions on animal related topics. Where are the vets? Trainers? Breeders? People who actually work with and understand the animals in question? Why aren’t they being solicited for opinions? Ms. Feldman smirks in front of the camera and chants “abuse and cruelty” until it sounds like a neurological problem, but offers absolutely no proof or examples to back up her accusations.

  • Kim Meadows Krohn

    This reminds me of something my dad always told me – perception is always more important than reality and at some point perception becomes reality. Sad.

  • Pat Dukes

    As a pure-bred dog fancier, and horse sport competitor, I enjoy your blogs and find them informative and interesting. I too fear organized “animal rights activists”.

    I do however; applaud Feld Entertainment’s decision to retire the elephants from Ringling Brother circuses to live in their Florida sanctuary. I love elephants and was haunted by knowing that the circus elephants spent the majority of their time standing chained with sore feet on hard surfaces while between performances, or in boxcars traveling from city to city. Moving these huge and often unpredictable animals from place to place often involved safety issues for the elephants, the handlers and the public. Living this type of life is not worth any entertainment that I might derive from watching them perform.

    I will wholeheartedly support the Ringling Sanctuary with my entertainment dollars in the hope that the day will come when all elephants can be seen in a natural setting, tended by these folks who respect them enough to make a change and do something so right for them. Then we can learn about and enjoy them while they go about a far more natural elephant life, without daily chains and constant travel. This is a win/win for everyone that loves elephants, including those at Ringling that have the privilege of caring for the greatest land mammals on earth! The Asian elephants are fortunate to have a safe and permanent well-funded sanctuary and I encourage others to support them as well.

    I believe it is important to take great care not to confuse PETA crazies “animal rights” with animal “cruelty/welfare” issues. We can support pure-bred dog activities and responsible breeders, yet condemn huge commercial puppy factories. We can enjoy and support horse work uses, horse sports and responsible breeders without urging a return to the era of the bearing rein or horse slaughter houses. We can support aquariums and zoos that are invested in cruelty free care and management of the animals they are fortunate to care for. And in the meantime we must use our inquisitive brains and caring hearts to determine our feelings on each and every animal related issue.

    Thank you again for all the informative subjects you cover. You often shine a welcome spotlight into dark corners. While we must agree to disagree about circus elephants, we clearly stand together on far more than not.

    • Donwanna Behere

      It’s hard to know where to draw the line. It’s OK to have elephants in Florida, but not on tour? It’s OK to breed dogs, but not have puppy mills? It’s OK to have horses in the country, but not in the city. It’s OK for me to have my animal pursuit, but not you to have yours because I’ve decided I disagree with yours. In all animal pursuits, the welfare of the animal must be paramount, and ideally, should be the sole definition of whether an animal pursuit should or should not be allowed.

    • Sandy Wallis

      My problem with this issue is that almost the exact words you used to describe the elephants’ plight are used to describe the NYC carriage horses’ conditions. The claims there are absolutely and unequivocally false, so I am extremely leery of believing the claims against the elephants.

      • Pat Dukes

        You are absolutely correct Sandy, it is easy for the haters to use a broad brush in painting anything done with animals to be wrong or evil. For me, the big difference with the carriage horses is that they are doing work that horses were domesticated to carry out. They get the exercise horses need, they are rested and well cared for in their off time, and we can look at them and see if they are healthy and well-cared for. If they spent all of their off time in train cars or tractor trailers and if their movement was severely limited over 75% of the time, I think you’d speak out against it. I know I would. Basically though, whether animal rights extremists like it or not, the carriage horses are doing a reasonable, domestic job that they were bred to do. Elephants on the other hand range long distances, in closely knit family groups. Nothing about the job they do in the circus or the life they live to perform is natural for them. And by the way, I don’t object in the least to horses, dogs or any other domestic animals performing in the circus, as long as they are well cared for.

        • Sandy Wallis

          Thank you for your comment, Pat Dukes. However, I have some points for you to consider. The Budweiser Clydesdales and the the Coors Belgians are some of the most pampered and well-cared for horses on the planet. They spend long hours on vans much like the elephants. I have seen these horses personally and they seem perfectly content. They are mentally as well as physically healthy. So depending on elephants’ nature, simply hauling long distances may not be problematic for them. Wild horses also roam long distances (for grazing reasons, not because they particularly like to travel these distances) and also form family groups. But even mustangs who are adopted can live healthily in a small enclosure. Some horses live most of their lives in stalls, only getting out for a short time each day. Most of them can adapt quite easily to this as long as their needs are being met. With horses there are 3 basic mental health needs. They need mental stimulation- a view, toys, or a companion animal (goat, burro, mini, cat, rooster, etc.) They need companionship- other horses in adjoining stalls or a companion animal in the same stall. And they need frequent feedings- usually in the form of free choice hay. I have no idea what living, breathing elephants’ needs are, so I have no idea if hauling them is detrimental to their health or not. Personally, I would have to hear from the people who care for the elephants on a daily basis and hear what they have to say before I would ever speak out about perceived mistreatment. Indian elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years just like horses. I’m sure there is a great deal known about their likes and dislikes, needs and problems, and their strengths and weaknesses. I would need to learn more about these things before I would be comfortable taking a hard stance on this issue.

    • Were you ever around the traveling elephants before or during their shows?

  • chienblanc4csi

    To quote our friend Cindy Buckmaster – Stop hiding and change the world! Everyone thinks they don’t have time to add one more “thing” to their day, their lives, it’s so all-consuming to care for our animals and keep our way of life. Someone else will do it, I’m too busy. Well, someone else WILL do it, and you won’t like it. Maybe we don’t have to answer every single ridiculous false accusation, but we do need to be available, to be real, to open wide the doors to our lives. Right now, most of us are so spooked by the bad news we read in the media, we are terrified of becoming another target . . . well, it’s past that now, too late, we all are targets. Recently a former PETA employee came forward and told the world about the horrible things she did under the command of Ingrid Newkirk. Yes, she was attacked by PETA, but you know what? She survived. And a lot of people heard what she had to say, and realized that she was telling the truth. With ZERO proof, no evidence at all, just her own words, her admission of guilt for things that took place 15 years ago. Yet countless people are aware now of how PETA operates – Boom, in a flash – awareness. It was informal, not scientific, no footnotes, no research studies, no statistics, just a personal story that rang true.

    • Brenda Hinkemeyer

      Here’s the problem, at least for the dog world. They have gotten cities to pass dog limits and other restrictions. Some dog lovers/breeders are over their limit. So bringing attention to yourself brings their wrath. If you testify against a bill, your name and address are part of the public record. Then there are the false complaints that come in. Or the threats. Or the killing or releasing of your animals. I know people who have been there. When I started showing dogs in 1989, PETA was poisoning dogs at dog shows. There campaign then was “betterbdead than bred”. They will do anything to further their cause, which is eliminating pet ownership. That is why people have a hard time fighting them. Our most outspoken person here is older and no longer has dogs. She can risk it.

      • chienblanc4csi

        And that is why I do what I do, speak out fearlessly. I am not a breeder, in spite of what the extremists say – and they say it all the time, as if calling me a breeder were the filthiest name they could possibly call anyone. I make a pretty useless target, they can’t blackmail me or threaten me with much, and in 10+ years of openly objecting to bad legislation I have not been threatened. Yes, my name and address is everywhere. Actually everyone’s name and address is available on the internet with hardly any effort at all. I think a worse problem is the internal bickering and finger pointing, the attempts to deflect the attention on to another member of the fancy. We eat our own. Sandy Wallis’s observation about the horse carriage drivers in NYC is spot on – when what you are doing is right and legal, you should be very open.

        Yes, it is a problem for people who are over their community limit, but trying to hide isn’t helping anyone. Some people may have to make some difficult decisions, find some courage. Ignoring your local ordinances is risky. I am not young myself any more, I’d sure like some help, or at least some appreciation and support.

  • potol

    It was in the 1860s that there were many letters between Bergh who started the ASPCA in New York and P. T. Barnum, also of New York.
    To me that is a long time to work to put the circus out of business. Back then it was feeding a live rat to a snake that Bergh had issue with. The activist will probably be out for the last dog in the circus, you remember the one little dog who ran out after the 30 clowns got out of the very small car, simply their ideology directs them toward total animal liberation. I bet HSUS is not finished as yet! So sad that today’s small children, well some may never see a 3,000 pound elephant. I hope the circus will and can continue their elephant conservation program in Florida and be left alone.

  • Venice Tucker

    yep I care about animals 🙂