Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chimp trainers give sadism a bad name

Being the daughter of a chimp trainer in the 1950s and ‘60s gave me some special experiences. The best of course, was playing with baby chimpanzees, amd watching dad train them to ride bicycles and ponies. But I got other benefits too.
Who else had a big elephant tooth to show off? Dad brought one home from the zoo, and we put it in a place of honor in our home. (Looking back, I’m not sure why dad got the elephant’s tooth. It looked perfectly fine, no cavities, not even tartar.) Do you want beautiful, almost iridescent, peacock feathers? Just touching them, softly, brought an elegant glamour to a young girl’s dreams. How about snakeskins? Turtle shells? Dad made friends with a lot of people at the Detroit Zoo, and I reaped the rewards.
Best of all, we had THE JAR. Dad kept a huge glass container filled with an assortment of animal fetuses, animal brains, and other sundry animal body parts. The stuff swam in a pool of formaldehyde to keep the tissue from rotting. I took the jar to school for “show and tell” one day (did I have permission? I don’t remember!), and accidently dropped it on the hard floor. I don’t know what was worse… the overpowering stench of chemical, the disgusting sight of tiny animal fetuses sliding along the floor, or the heart-stopping fear of going home and telling dad that I had destroyed his valued collection of animal parts.
Walking home from school that day, fear zoomed to the top of the list. It was a feeling I experienced often. I was going to be on the receiving end of dad’s anger, and I never knew if that meant just being screamed at or actually getting hit. To tell the truth, I do not remember what dad’s reaction was that day. I’ve blocked it out. But, to this day, I remember the fear that lurked in the background of my every day as a kid, waiting for the explosion of violence that would inevitably follow mistakes like my jar demolition.
The chimpanzees who dad trained had that same fear, day in and day out, getting slapped and punched even beaten for innocent mistakes. And although respectable zoos haven’t “trained” their chimps like that for decades, men like Steve Martin do. Martin, operating as Working Wildlife, owns the chimpanzees that CareerBuilder uses in their ads. The ads are no laughing matter.
Primates human or chimp who live with fear every day carry emotional scars for the rest of their lives. My brother’s scars were etched so deep that he had to blow his own head off to stop the pain. Butch, a chimpanzee rescued from Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey circus, looks over his shoulder often, trying to banish his ghosts of abuse. Dr. Hope Ferdowsian found that chimpanzees in research are traumatized and show symptoms of PTSD, much like humans and I think she would find the same if she studied entertainment chimpanzees.
Jo Mendi was forced to carry the cane
he was beat with.
We often hear that people witnessed no abuse when chimpanzees perform. (This footage, showing Tarzan's trainer, is an exception.) Not many people saw the abuse that dad meted out to us kids, either. But, like the fear I lived with every day, the fear that chimp trainers instill in their chimpanzees is all too real. Ever since the 1930s, when a trainer made Detroit Zoo chimpanzee Jo Mendi carry the cane he was beat with, chimp trainers enjoy the challenge of subjugating a young animal. They do it with a pervasive pattern of cruel, demeaning, and aggressive behavior. Chimp trainers get their jollies by intimidating, coercing, hurting, and humiliating the chimp. It is the classic definition of sadism.
These last couple of days I hoped that CareerBuilder would respond to the thousands of people who signed my petition asking the company to not use chimpanzees in their ads anymore. I asked for their answer by Valentine’s Day. But CareerBuilder didn’t even have the courtesy to respond.
Well, guess what? We’re not giving up. We will continue to speak up against the corporatism that imbues CareerBuilder management and marketing with the arrogance to scorn animal lovers and support disgusting businesses like Steve Martin’s
We will keep our petition on change.org alive until CareerBuilder pledges to stop using chimps in their ads. Then, maybe, Steve Martin’s business will dry up, and we can rescue his chimps… and begin to ease the fear caused by the disgusting and deliberate sadism that goes by the name “chimp trainer.”

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