Edited 3/18/11. In an effort to increase traffic to this post and others that are similar to it from other bloggers or articles I find, I will occasionally add links here at the top of this post. To read the original post, scroll down to the regular text below the links. The more we learn, the more we can advocate. If you feel any passion about this whatsoever, or if you know someone else who will feel passion about this at all, spread these links! These people need to be stopped!
This is a blog of another horrified Commerford visitor who decided to write to the USDA. The original letter and response are included in this blog posting.
I was raised by an animal rights activist and vegan. She's raised awareness in me about animal rights issues that I, like most other people, would likely never realize even existed had it not been for her. You would think that that would keep me from even considering going to things like traveling petting zoos. I know better. But for some reason, I didn't listen to my better judgment. My husband, kids and I went to the Commerford Traveling Petting Zoo this weekend.
They get you by circulating flyers saying, "Free Child's Admission", so of course you think, hey, lets check this out. I knew that it would be an unnatural setting for animals, but like an idiot, I thought it couldn't possibly be that bad. Well.... I was wrong. What I am going to describe is the same story I saw time and time again on the internet when we got home and started googling to see if it really was as bad as what we saw.
When we first arrived, we figured there would be a charge for adults. It was $12 each, which didn't seem too bad. We paid, and we went in. The first thing I noticed was that the animals looked dirty. DH went to buy tickets for rides while I wandered with DD. We went over to one pen with a miniature pony in it. This pony...... It was frozen. It didn't move. Not. One. Muscle. It just stood there staring into space, as though it were catatonic. There was a child bothered by the pony's lack of movement and he picked up a large piece of hay. He reached it in and began poking at the pony's face. Still, the pony did not move, and it was at this point that I realized there was no attendant there to tell the kid to stop. I told the kid I didn't think that was a very nice thing to do and he stopped. I looked around more, and there were no attendants near any of the pens of animals that I could see. There was no one ensuring the safety of the people petting the animals, or the safety of the animals themselves.
DH met back up with us with the tickets he'd purchased. $25 for 24 tickets. The rides cost 2 tickets, and if you wanted to ride on one of the animals? 4 tickets per person. An adult going on an elephant with their child would spend almost $9 to do so, and would literally spent 1-2 minutes on the elephant total.
And speaking of the elephants...... They had a long line going to ride on these elephants or on a camel. It was one line splitting into two for these animal rides. The enclosed space for the rides was about 20 feet in diameter. These elephants and the camel walked clockwise around this space the entire day, with groups of people piling on top of them. They looked old and tired...sickly. The attendants to these animals were carrying bullhooks. If you've never seen a bullhook before, this is what they are:
DS by that time had found his way onto some of the carnival rides. He and DD decided to ride on one together, and as fidgety as my little guy is, as soon as he got on this big fire truck with a bell, he tried to buckle himself in with the rope that they have for a seat belt. When the attendant came over to fasten it, he literally smacked DS's hand away and told him to "get off" (of the rope, not the ride). I didn't see this happen as I was too busy being silly making faces at my daughter. It was DH who saw it, and the couple standing next to him. If you don't know me beyond the blog post, my son is 5. The man slapped the hand of a 5 year old who was just trying to fasten his seat belt.
We left that area and went into a side room that had other animals and toys. We were down to our last 4 tickets (THANK GOD) and we were looking for a quick way to burn through them. This side room had more animals in it, including some ducks, some kind of mutant rat, and a kangaroo. This kangaroo..... I was already screwed up in the head about the conditions these animals were kept in. But this kangaroo was my breaking point. I was horrified. It was laying in its pen in this horrible unnatural position. I thought it was dead. There was a sign that said "Shhh I'm sleeping", or something to that effect, and I stood there and stared at it intently, praying its chest would move. When I saw it did move, I snapped my mind back into reality and rushed to get the kids on their last ride so we could just leave. (At more than $1 a ticket, for some reason we felt like we needed to just burn through them instead of give them away---BTW, by this point, we'd been there for probably a half hour. Tops. $49 in a carnival type of place spent in about a half hour.)
Again, we noticed that there were animals that didn't seem right psychologically. It seemed like all of the larger animals were "tranquillized" or something. They weren't right. They weren't normal. There was something seriously wrong with them. Not just one or two of the larger animals-- all of them.
They went on this inflatable slide thing and I breathed a sigh of relief at the notion of us being able to leave. The kids were begging to do more carnival rides, and we were as nicely as possible telling them we couldn't because we were out of tickets. We were both trying so hard to just hold our reactions to ourselves so that we wouldn't freak out the kids. For me, all I wanted was for them to forget the day even happened, and the best way to do that would be to NOT freak out in front of them.
As we were practically sprinting toward the door, after reasoning with the kids that we had no more tickets so we couldn't get on any more rides, a woman that DH had met several minutes earlier gave us 4 tickets right in plain view of our kids. We both just looked at each other, knowing the kids would freak if we didn't use them, so we turned back around, went back to that side room, and let them take one more turn on whatever they wanted to do. DD picked a huge bouncy castle, DS picked a train. 5 minutes in, and we were done again.
As we were leaving, though, one of the kids spotted the zebra. We walked over to it, and I could hear DH say, "Is it shaking? Or is that just its stripes?" I couldn't really tell, actually. It might have been shaking. Like the pony, it was standing there, frozen completely. It just stood there, right square in the middle of its pen, out of reach of anyone, or any of the animals kept in a pen that surrounded it.
It was everything I could do to hold back the tears. Here we were in the middle of a torture chamber for animals, and not only had we brought our kids expecting they might enjoy it, but we actually gave these people our money. What had we been thinking? How the hell did I get the twisted idea in my head that that would have been a good way to spend an afternoon? And what was it going to take to make sure our kids never, ever believe that that is the way animals should be treated, kept and handled?
We got in the car. I turned it on and just sat there. I started to pull out of the space but just stopped. I felt frozen in time, just like the pony and the zebra. I couldn't move, and when my husband started to wonder why I wasn't going anywhere, I told him I wasn't ready to drive yet. He took over the driver's seat, and when the car was moving and we left the parking lot of the Civic Center, the tears started flowing. I sent a text to my mom, whose job includes investigating complaints about the mishandling and abuse of exotic animals. I asked her if it was typical for animals in traveling zoos to tranquilize their animals. She said some do. I told her I was pretty sure that I'd just left one that did. Then I said I didn't want to talk about it.
My husband and I talked at length about what we had just seen. He noticed that the equipment for the amusement rides were licensed in Massachusetts and may have been expired. The licenses showed every year from 2007 to 2010, but nothing for 2011.
A little while later I texted my mom again asking her how she gets the images of these things out of her head because nothing I could do would get the absolute horror that I felt over the whole thing to go away. She called me, and we talked for awhile about it. Half of the conversation, I was holding back tears, the other half, I just cried as I described to her what I saw. She emailed me a list of things that she had on file for the Commerford Zoo, including USDA citations and correspondence with cities that had decided to no longer allow this Zoo in their limits.
I asked her what I could do to make peace in my heart, because I was such a wreck with guilt, shame, and sadness. She told me to tell this story. She told me to share what I know. As long as I can stop one person from witnessing what I saw, that is one less person funding this.
So I share with the world what it is we experienced. I'd like to ask that if this moves you at all, you share it as well. The more links and hits that this blog post gets, the better the chances that it will appear in google search results along with Commerford Zoo's website. Share this story with anyone you think might consider going. Share this story with anyone that you know is passionate about defending animals against this kind of cruelty. But, whatever you do, DO NOT GO TO ONE OF THESE EVENTS. Going to these events literally funds animal cruelty.
For the sake of keeping this blog post from being painfully long, I will present the following list of citations and other problems that have been recorded against Commerford Zoo. Most of these things listed here do have further documentation that I have (for instance, specific circumstances regarding USDA complaints written up by the USDA, newspaper articles, etc.). If you are interested in seeing any of this, leave your email address in the comments (please note if you'd prefer your email address not be published in comments) and I'll email you whichever you are interested in seeing.
Here are the complaints, provided by PETA, and quoted directly from the PETA factsheet. If you are interested in contacting PETA, they are at 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510 757-622-7382 • PETA.org • Circuses.com.
R.W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo
USDA License #16-C-0006, 48 Torrington Rd., Goshen, CT 06756
R.W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo has failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited R.W. Commerford & Sons numerous times for failure to provide adequate veterinary care, for failure to maintain enclosures and transport trailers, for failure to have an attendant present during periods of public contact, for improper feeding, and for poor housekeeping. An elephant from R.W. Commerford & Sons has been involved in three dangerous incidents while giving rides to children and caused injuries. Contact PETA for documentation.
February 1, 2008: Commerford advertised a yak and a water buffalo for sale in Animal Finders’ Guide, a trade publication that caters to exotic animal breeders and dealers, the pet trade, and hunting ranches.
January 2, 2008: The USDA cited Commerford & Sons for failure to maintain facilities in good repair because a gate for a sheep, goat, llama, and donkey enclosure had support posts with jagged edges and a bent and broken horizontal bottom rail, which posed a risk of injury to the animals.
August 8, 2007: The USDA cited Commerford & Sons for failure to provide a developed and documented environmental enhancement plan for primates.
May 26, 2007: The USDA cited Commerford & Sons for failure to handle food in a manner that would prevent contamination.
February 21, 2007: Bob Commerford testified before a Connecticut state legislative committee in opposition to proposed bill 6599, which sought to eliminate the mistreatment of captive elephants by banning the use of bullhooks, electric prods, and chains.
September 28, 2006: The USDA cited Commerford & Sons for failure to maintain a transport trailer in a way that would protect the health and ensure the safety and comfort of the animals and for failing to store food in a manner that would protect against contamination and deterioration.
August 10, 2006: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to have an employee or attendant present during periods of public contact with the animals in the petting zoo, including an elephant named Karen.
March 5, 2006: An Asian elephant named Minnie injured two Commerford employees while giving rides at the Best Western Royal Plaza Trade Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts. As children were being loaded onto the elephant, she became agitated and suddenly swung her head toward the two employees, shifting her weight and pinning them against the loading ramp. An eyewitness reported that one of the employees had provoked the elephant by striking her in the face. One man sustained a chest injury and the other a broken arm. Both were taken by ambulance to the hospital. Two bystanders sustained bruises. Minnie has been involved in at least three previous dangerous incidents (see August 27, 1998, and August 28, 1989).
August 27, 1998: While carrying children on her back at the New York State Fair, an elephant named Minnie panicked and knocked down her trainer, then stepped on him. A 3-year-old girl was also injured after falling off the elephant and hitting her head on the ground. Both were treated at a local hospital. Minnie had been involved in at least two previous attacks (see August 28, 1989).
June 25, 1998: Commerford was cited for failure to have a program of veterinary care.
June 24, 1998: Commerford was cited for failure to maintain the elephant transport trailer. The inspector also noted that the program of veterinary care was outdated.
September 27, 1997: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to maintain enclosures, failure to have an attendant present in the petting zoo, and failure to provide veterinary care to an ill goat.
April 2, 1997: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to maintain enclosures with broken, cracked, and jagged wood and plastic, for poor housekeeping, and for inadequate pest control.
March 14, 1997: After examining several animals with the Commerford petting zoo, a veterinarian with VCA Bowie Animal Hospital in Maryland wrote, “[A sheep] was very thin with labored breathing and bilateral pneumonia. The yak [was] very thin [with] labored respiration and … pneumonia. The elephant was showing marked lameness on both rear legs. … I would be very concerned about public safety with an animal that is this sore.”
August 8, 1996: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to correct a previously identified noncompliance of not having readily identifiable employees present while animals were on public display.
March 13, 1996: Commerford was cited for improper food and bedding storage and failure to maintain enclosures.
March 10, 1996: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to provide veterinary care to four sheep with excessively long hooves, failure to have an identifiable employee present during exhibition, and for having an electrical wire inside the prairie dog enclosure.
October 6, 1995: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to provide veterinary care to two llamas with excessively long hooves and for failure to document deworming procedures.
August 28, 1995: Commerford was cited for using a 13-year-old attendant to handle the camel and failure to have an attendant present in the petting zoo during periods of public contact.
February 21, 1995: The USDA cited Commerford for inadequate drainage in the elephant enclosure, failure to maintain a camel stall, failure to clean a water receptacle in the cattle and zebu enclosure with a buildup of algae, failure to dispose of a large accumulation of soiled hay, bedding, and feces behind the elephant barn, failure to clean the transport trailer, and failure to provide veterinary care to pygmy goats with excessively large mammary glands and a prairie dog with patches of hair loss.
October 7, 1994: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to comply with feeding regulations.
March 7, 1994: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to provide veterinary care to goats and sheep with overgrown hooves and for improper feeding.
February 14, 1994: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to monitor animals during periods of public contact, for improper feeding, and for failure to have food available for a baby lamb who was too young to be isolated from his mother.
December 9, 1993: Commerford was cited by the USDA for inadequate pest control.
September 17, 1993: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to maintain the elephant’s transport trailer.
July 22, 1993: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to maintain the elephant’s transport trailer, for failure to maintain records of acquisition and disposition, for failure to keep an elephant giving rides under the control of a handler, for exhibiting a bull, a zebu, and a giraffe in a manner that could cause injury to the public and without the presence of an attendant, and for failure to have a program of veterinary care.
May 17, 1993: The USDA cited Commerford for improper food storage, for keeping piles of manure in and near the elephant yard, for failure to provide structurally sound fencing around the zebra enclosure, for failure to make necessary repairs to the elephant barn, for poor housekeeping, and for failure to maintain transport trailers.
October 14, 1992: Commerford was cited for giving animals unsanitary drinking water in rusty receptacles.
October 8, 1992: The USDA cited Commerford for improper food storage, failure to maintain prairie dog cages that contained protruding wires, and failure to provide records of acquisition and disposition.
February 20, 1992: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to provide environment enrichment to primates and failure to erect a structurally sound perimeter fence.
October 12, 1991: The USDA cited Commerford for improper food storage.
July 10, 1991: The USDA cited Commerford for improper food storage and failure to maintain enclosures.
September 18, 1990: The USDA cited Commerford for a filthy primate enclosure.
August 8, 1990: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to maintain the primate cage and failure to provide adequate space and exercise to the giraffe.
July 13, 1990: The USDA cited Commerford for failure to maintain the rabbit cage.
June 29, 1990: The USDA inspector noted that a “newborn donkey and mother should be allowed quiet quarters” at the Meadowlands Fair.
August 28, 1989: An elephant handler was attacked and critically injured by an elephant named Minnie after he struck the elephant with a bullhook while two children were riding on the elephant’s back. Minnie picked up the handler with her trunk and threw him against a trailer, breaking his shoulder and jaw, at the Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction, Vermont. According to a witness, “Blood was gushing everywhere. The kids were left stranded.” Commerford continued using Minnie for rides at the fair despite a public outcry that the elephant was too dangerous. Years earlier, Minnie had attacked a worker and broken his arm.
Commerford Zoo's website-- only linked to so that when Google crawls, this blog get placed in search results near it. Feel free to NOT click it.
P.S. Mom, thank you for calming me yesterday, and thank you for all of the information you sent me.