SeaWorld opened a theme park in the Cleveland, Ohio-area suburb of Aurora in 1970 and permanently closed it in 2000.  The land on which the park was located was dormant until now, when it is about to be developed for residential and commercial use. 

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recently sent a letter to Aurora City Council asking for permission to erect a memorial on the site to 10 dolphins that PETA alleges died prematurely at SeaWorld Ohio due to a variety of causes, such as systemic infection, lung disease, and gastrointestinal disease. (The city replied that it does not own the property.) PETA’s principal assertion is that dolphins were and still are mistreated.  Its letter read, in part: 

“While dolphins are no longer held captive at this location, at other SeaWorld parks across the country, 140 of them are squeezed into just seven small tanks, where they can’t escape attacks from other frustrated, aggressive dolphins.  They’re forcibly bred—sometimes after being drugged—and they’re used in cruel circus-style shows in which ‘trainers’ stand on their faces and ride on their backs like surfboards.”

A PETA spokeswoman referred to the former Ohio SeaWorld facility as an “abusement park.”  SeaWorld answered by labeling the quest for a memorial a “publicity stunt.”

Whenever a person resorts to an inflammatory term like “abusement park,” it immediately signals that having a rational conversation with the individual is unlikely, at least as the conversation pertains to a memorial to deceased dolphins or to animal-use ethics in civilized society.

The PETA website unambiguously reflects the creed underlying the PETA spokeswoman’s coarse choice of words:

“Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” 

Captured in this single sentence is PETA’s ambition to eliminate animal use for virtually any purpose, including, for example, livestock farming/ranching, feeding people, all forms of horse sports (hunting/jumping, dressage, racing, showing, etc.), crafting leather-made products like shoes, and advancing medical science.

Some of the most generous benefactors to equine and animal welfare organizations and efforts are deeply involved in horse sports, encompassing people who make monetary donations as well as caregivers.  Yet from reading the aforementioned PETA doctrine, the only logical conclusion can be that, in PETA’s interpretation, these folks are wittingly or unwittingly engaging in animal cruelty.  This is an extreme position and a highly inaccurate and insulting portrayal of many kind animal owners, trainers, and caretakers.

The vast majority of owners and trainers in horse racing (and other horse sports) acknowledge that substantive reforms are necessary to ensure better safety for human and equine athletes; incidents like the recent horse fatalities at Santa Anita are unacceptable. And the racing cohort has taken remedial actions, as acknowledged on PETA’s own website, and is pursuing others.

But, if you take PETA at its written word–that animal entertainment is in and of itself abusive–no amount of reform will suffice.  PETA’s desired end-result is the abolishment of all horse sports, of which racing is the most visible genre.

By contrast, the Humane Society of the United States works with equine participants to derive and implement humane initiatives.

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