Circus Ban Legislation Key in Ending Animal Abuse
Despite decades of protests by animal rights groups and advocates, traveling circuses continue to use domestic and exotic animals in their acts throughout the U.S. But thanks to the undercover investigative work by animal rights organizations such as Animal Defenders International, a federal ban on the use of animals in circuses in the U.S. may be coming soon.
This past April, Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, introduced legislation drafted by Animal Defenders International, known as the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (TEAPA), which would essentially restrict the use of exotic, non-domestic animals such as lions, tigers, bears and elephants from touring with circuses.
Americans may not be as familiar with the Animal Defenders International (ADI) brand as they are with other animal rights groups, even though the public is largely aware of ADI’s work, including securing a ban on circuses employing the use of exotic or all animals in 45 American cities and counties in 21 different states, as well as the passage of legislation banning the use of animal testing for cosmetics in Europe.
Jan Creamer is the president of Animal Defenders International, which she co-founded in 1990 with her husband Tim Phillips, who currently serves as vice president of ADI. Creamer says that after nearly 30 years of studying circuses all over the world, including in the U.S., researchers have found that the animals are suffering at a level no one would support—especially children.
“Some of our biggest supporters are children,” Creamer said. Children are instinctively compassionate.” Though they may get excited by all of the glitz, glamour and lights that is the circus, Creamer says when children learn of the pain and suffering the animals endure, children often ask their parents to not take them to the circus again.
Currently ADI has secured a ban on either the use of all animals or at least wild animals in circuses in 27 different countries, including Austria, Colombia, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Portugal and Sweden. Throughout the summer ADI worked with the Peruvian government to enforce its recently-passed circus ban, by collecting the animals from the circuses and finding them new homes at local sanctuaries as well as those in the U.S.
In addition to the proposed ban in the U.S., legislation restricting exotic animals from being used in traveling circuses are currently being discussed in a handful of other countries as well in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico and The Netherlands.
“The more people know about what happens behind the scenes in traveling circuses,” the more they support banning circuses that employ animals, Creamer says. And thanks to hidden cameras and covert surveillance techniques, ADI has photographic evidence of the animal abuse that occurs in the circus and has taken the images to the public and legislature to support their cause.
Though the proposed legislation in the U.S. does not prohibit the use of domestic animals such as horses and dogs from being used by traveling circuses, Creamer says ideally she would like to see a ban on the use of all animals in traveling circuses because domestic animals such as dogs and horses have been found to display evidence of fear and intimidation of their trainers too.
“The circus industry continues to survive because they create an illusion of love and respect between the animal and the trainer,” Creamer said. In reality, the animals don’t love their trainers, as they are forced to obey them and perform tricks they don’t want to do, for fear they will be hit or stabbed with bullhooks, whips and metal bars, shocked with a stun gun or other electric prod, and in some cases, deprived of food and water.
Much to the dismay of some animal rights advocates, the legislation would not affect zoos, aquariums, rodeos or other permanent facilities that house animals. Creamer says the reason the legislation doesn’t target facilities like zoos, is because these places are often able to provide animals a healthy living environment, complete with social interactions.
Traveling circuses on the other hand cram animals into small areas for hours, sometimes days at a time, which often results in the animals going out of their minds as evidenced by abnormal behavior such as rocking, swaying and pacing.
Creamer says the cramped living conditions for animals in the circus is the equivalent of a human being told to stay in their bathroom for a week. Just like humans, when animals are not stimulated, and are isolated, they become mentally damaged, Creamer said, and behave in a way that indicates the animal is not coping with their environment.
“The evidence is now irrefutable,” she said. Animals kept in small living quarters suffer from psychological and physical damage, Creamer said, which is something humans were not aware of when the circus first began in the 1700s.
Moran agrees, and said in a press release earlier this year that "From video and photographic evidence, it’s clear that traveling circuses aren’t providing the proper living conditions for exotic animals. This legislation is intended to target the most egregious situations involving exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses.”
Jobs vs. animal rights
Given that going to the circus is a cherished childhood memory for many, and an employer for others, not every American is supportive of the ban on the use of animals in the circus, especially the Virginia-based Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
As Stephen Payne, a spokesman for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told a local Virginia news outlet earlier this year, the circus has never violated the federal animal welfare act, which he says makes the proposed TEAPA legislation, "a slap in the face to the hundreds of men and women who care for the animals."
Payne added that the legislation also threatens “hundreds of jobs” and would “deny millions of Americans the enjoyment of seeing these animals.”
Creamer responded to Payne’s concerns saying that human-only circuses such as Cirque du Soleil would still be allowed, and added that a majority of the American public doesn’t enjoy watching animals suffer, especially for entertainment purposes, which is just one more reason she says the animal circus has become a dying industry.
Moran also noted that recently the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus agreed to pay a record $270,000 fine to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating the Animal Welfare Act multiple times between June 2007 and August 2011.
Thanks to research done on animals living on the wild and television programs chronicling how animals live, Creamer says the public has a greater understanding of the intelligence and emotional needs of other species, which is why people are supportive of the bans.
“The mounting evidence of inhumane treatment and the growing public concern for these animals demands that we reconsider what are appropriate living conditions for these intelligent, social creatures,” Moran said.
“They’re seeing the truth,” Creamer said, adding we must ask ourselves “What kind of society do we want to be, and how do we want to relate to animals?”
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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.
When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.
We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.
Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.
What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.
Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.
To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.
Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.
The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.
Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.
Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?
The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.
Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome
While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.
It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.
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Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.
Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.
Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.
Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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