Friday, March 11, 2011

The silence of abuse

When did you "hear" the silence? When was your AHA! moment?

Don’t you love being in a packed airplane when some kid gets upset and starts to shout and stomp, and throws one helluva magnificent tantrum? Yeah, me neither. I wonder if our chimp cousins feel the same when one of their group starts screaming. As it turns out, both species are superb at throwing a hissy fit when they are angry.
There are certain individuals, human and chimp, who rarely make a scene, however. Maybe you’ve seen her. She was that youngster walking on eggshells, afraid to show anger when she had every reason to. That was me and, I believe, my brothers and sisters, trying to walk gently, not complaining, not crying out, being careful not to make an abusive father mad enough to strike out.
Great apes in entertainment
learn early that it's safer to submit.
Why doesn’t that youngster SAY something to a teacher, a friend, a cousin? Why doesn’t she yell to high heavens? If she is like I once was, she is afraid to. If she says something, she is sure to get a whipping when dad finds out.
Little kids aren’t the only ones who fear their caregiver and suffer in silence. Apes in entertainment, the ones who are so adorable and smart and obedient and never throw a tantrum in public, can’t let the public see their pain.
Entertainment apes may be silent but, every so often, a person has one of those unexpected “aha” moments when she sees the evidence of suffering. A friend tells me of her moment, when she met one of the entertainment orangutans owned by Bobby Berosini. (See the article Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Film No Evil if you want a quick read on this disgusting animal trainer).
My friend, who is a registered dental hygienist in Las Vegas, prefers to remain anonymous (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!), so I’ll call her Jane. Anyway, Jane tells me that in the late 1980s, she was working for a dentist who was a friend of the veterinarian associated with the infamous trainer (and abuser) Berosini.
One of the orangutans who performed nightly at the now imploded Stardust Casino had a tooth problem, and the vet asked the dentist if he would look at it.
“Orangutan teeth are like our teeth,” Jane explains. “They are not like dog or cat teeth. The teeth have very long roots, and they are larger than ours are.”
The dentist told the vet that he needed to do the procedure in his dental office. If the tooth fractured, he would need a drill and perhaps other instruments. So the dental team waited late one night for the orangutan to arrive.
“They pulled up in the bus they used to travel to the show every day,” Jane remembers. “The precious orangutan was wearing a silk robe and silk boxer shorts. He was adorable.”

In 1988, a dentist helped an orangutan after arguing
with the trainer who thought treatment would interfere
with their Vegas show.

After taking x-rays of the tooth, the docs told Berosini that the tooth was badly abscessed and needed to come out NOW. Jane was appalled by Berosini’s reaction.
“All he was worried about was that he was supposed to be in the show that night. Even when they explained the risk of infection becoming systemic – not to mention the orangutan’s pain – Berosini wanted to delay. Couldn't he bring him back, Berosini insisted, on one of the nights the show was ‘dark,’ as they say here in sin city.”
They finally convinced Berosini that it wasn’t in his interest to let the problem get worse, and they successfully removed the tooth. So, all’s well that ends well, right?
“What bothered me was that – for one thing – that orangutan had to be in terrible pain. How long had it been going on? I know sometimes with animals it is hard to know…” but Berosini was acting in character for many entertainment trainers. “This ass was more worried about making the animal perform. He wasn’t concerned with the orangutan’s comfort or well-being,” Jane discovered. Berosini was able to ignore the needs of his cute moneymakers because they were silent.
(BTW, after Berosini was caught on tape beating his orangutans, he was eventually driven out of business by PETA and others. “I'm glad his career was destroyed,” Jane says.)
In Serving a Life Sentence: for your viewing pleasure, primate experts explain why chimps – and orangutans – suffer in silence:
“… Many trainers rely heavily on physical domination and fear to ensure constant attention and compliance from their performers-in-training. Eyewitness accounts have documented the fact that some trainers pummel chimpanzees with their own fists, beat them with hammers, metal rods, and mop handles. Electric devices also may be used to shock them into submission. This calculated abuse turns the chimpanzees into fearful individuals who will pay attention and cooperate if only to avoid further abuse."
The degree of abuse may differ. I am reasonably sure that my chimp trainer father never used electricity on the chimps at the Detroit Zoo. He did enough with his fists and belt to get submissive and cooperative silence from the young souls – human and reportedly chimps as well – under his control.
Seeing an orangutan in pain gave Jane her "aha" moment. Have you heard the silence yet?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this. I was watching YouTube videos & happened upon Bobby Berosini & his orangutans. 1 of the comments from the video mentioned abused (I think it's SICK to have animals perform) so I decided to do a little research & came upon your article. Obviously you wrote it yrs ago but I completey agreed w/ it & learned some new things too. I wish people would learn to respect these magificent animals & treat them right. They belong in the wild or in sanctuaries...not performing for our entertainment. Once again, thank-you for your article!

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