Save Suffering Circus Animals from Abuse


Target: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

Goal: Protect animals from abuse in circuses by setting strict guidelines for punishing circuses that violate animal welfare standards

Ever wonder why a circus that repeatedly abuses animals and endangers the public can continue to do so for years? The following is a description of how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) typically deals with circuses that abuse or neglect animals: the USDA will conduct an inspection and issue infractions, or small fines, for offenses as serious as not providing elephants with proper veterinary care. The USDA will set a time period for the circus to correct the infractions and pay the fines. The USDA will then conduct another inspection, issue more infractions, and give the circus more time to shape up or pay the fines. If the circus violates the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the USDA will issue a warning. If the circus continues to violate the AWA, the USDA may finally revoke its license, and settle with the circus in a civil suit. If the circus continues to operate without a license, the USDA’s response is to issue another citation.

An example: Sterling and Reid Circus received 50 USDA infractions for animal abuse and neglect in ten years. The circus paid the fines and continued to perform. Once, a bear fell out of a train car while the circus was traveling. According to the USDA, the bear was injured and terrified, and the circus did not notice the animal was missing until the following day. The circus settled with the USDA in a civil suit for $10,000, and was given another year to shape up.

Fines and settlements that circuses can pay for with one night’s performance do not stop repeat offenders. Demand that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack use a strict time frame that cannot be avoided by shelling out cash to shut down offending circuses. Sign now and make change happen.


Dear Secretary Vilsack,

Your agency allows circuses that repeatedly abuse or neglect animals to continue operating for far too long. Sterling and Reid Circus continued to abuse and neglect animals for ten years while your agency issued infractions. If a circus continues to perform after its license is revoked, it is punished with a citation and continues to profit from animal suffering.

Secretary Vilsack please direct your agency to adhere to a strict timeline for shutting down circuses that abuse or neglect animals. Monetary punishments, including settlements in civil suits with your agency, are small enough for circuses to pay off in one night’s performance. Please impose more effective penalties for circuses that abuse or neglect animals and endanger the public.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Heather Norwood via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. I went to the circus many years ago and it was the most nauseating experience on earth. Never again.

  2. Une honte de ce que les cirques font aux animaux, ils n’ont pas le droit de battre de taper un animal aussi magnififique majestueux et de quel droit le priver de sa liberté? Qui sommes nous pour faire cela. La LIBERTÉ pour tous et les cirques sans animaux..!! Je BOYCOTTE les cirques et mes enfants je les éduque pour qu’ils transmettent autours d’eux..!

  3. Christina Petkovic says:

    Even as a kid I hated the way animals were treated in circus. When I walked around the perimeter, all I saw was chains and tiny cages and poor ponies having to carry people around and around a small sand circle… Horrifying

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