This past week, Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, received an award of $15.75 million from a number of animal-welfare organizations to terminate a legal battle that has been going on for 14 years.  The parties paying Feld are the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Welfare Institute, Born Free USA, the Wildlife Advocacy Project, and their attorneys (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals settled previously).  These groups were not able to prove that the circus mistreats elephants and, in fact, they bribed a former elephant cleaner and feeder for Ringling Bros. with about $200,000 to claim that the circus abused its elephants.

The Wall Street Journal wrote:

“The animal rights litigants were already on the hook for Feld’s attorney’s fees after a federal judge last year slapped the groups and their counsel with an unprecedented penalty for making ‘frivolous,’ ‘vexatious,’ and ‘groundless’ claims in court against Feld.

The sanction marked the first time that a private defendant in a Endangered Species Act case was awarded attorney fees since Congress passed the law in 1973…

The judge who imposed the sanction, Emmet G. Sullivan, was the same judge who in 2009 threw out the animal-abuse lawsuit, citing the ‘groundless nature of [the] claims.’

Feld has now recovered $25 million in the litigation.  American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, another defendant in the case, had already paid Feld $9.3 million in a separate settlement in 2012.”

The Feld settlement should send a signal loud and clear that you had better be able to substantiate your allegations about mistreatment by animal owners and caretakers before making them.  One wonders, for example, whether the Feld case will embolden racehorse trainer Steve Asmussen to sue PETA for defamation and damaging his business interests.  The PETA tapes must show illegalities, or else Asmussen may have recourse in the court system for harm to his reputation and monetary losses.

The vast majority of the people I’ve known who own and care for racehorses are compassionate.  Moreover, many of them are working to rid their sport of medication abuses and to find better solutions to abominations like horse slaughter.

Similarly, animal-welfare groups generally do their best to help defenseless animals, and much of the work is done by volunteers with kind hearts.  The problem lies with the zealots.

Copyright ©2014 Horse Racing Business


  1. jroberts says

    The PETA videos show some bad attitudes but no obvious violations of medication rules. Asmussen did encourage an immigration lie but that is not a PETA concern. PETA cost him his place on the Hall of Fame ballot and Zayat took his horses away. As bad as the tapes were for racing’s standing with the public, there is no smoking gun. I can’t tolerate Asmussen or PETA.

  2. If you’re going to accuse someone of wrongdoing you better be able to back it up with facts, as the animal-rights people found out.

    That’s only fair in the Internet age when anyone can say anything and do it under a screen name. Some of these cowards are being prosecuted now for libel. The courts are more willing to have the blog or website divulge the names of posters.

    What kind of person pays a witness to lie? These so-called humane associations should be ashamed.