They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Doug types too much...
November 6, 2017
One of the most famous examples of killing a living creature for entertainment purposes is Topsy. It was the turn of the last century.
Topsy was a circus elephant working Coney Island, specifically Luna Park. Some unfortunate elements came together in a perfect storm leading to Topsy’s demise in 1903.
During her life, Topsy traded hands several times. Reports indicate she arrived at Coney Island after killing a man in 1902. Not that the guy didn’t have it coming. He was drunk, trying to feed tied up elephants liquor. He threw sand in Topsy’s face. And burned the end of her sensitive trunk with a lit cigar. Even though she was secured, Topsy managed to grab the guy with her trunk, whereupon she threw the joker to the ground and crushed him.
Topsy was labeled as a “bad” elephant. I’m not an elephant, but something tells me if my handlers were routinely drunk and encouraging me by stabbing me with pitchforks, I’d be a bad operator myself.
When it got to a point where no one wanted her, the decision was made to euthanize Topsy in a public showcase. The first notion was a hanging that people would pay admission to. The President of the ASPCA intervened saying it wasn’t ethical to hang Topsy, nor was it decent to charge admission.
The ASPCA negotiated with Topsy’s owners and they arrived at a more humane alternative to hanging. A combination of poison, strangulation, and electrocution.
So on Sunday the 4th of January, 1903, Topsy was guided to stand on top of an electrified grid where heavy ropes attached to a steam winch were secured around her head. She was fed carrots laced with cyanide, and then the juice was applied.
They say Topsy fell over without a trumpet or even a groan. It was filmed by Thomas Edison’s folks to be watched as entertainment. It took Topsy roughly 10 seconds to fry, smoke puffing from around the two feet of hers that were secured to copper “shoes.”
So there was Topsy. Followed by years of westerns killing and maiming horses unnecessarily, mainly through the use of tripwires.
But in 1939, there was a movie that brought some things to a head. Jesse James. This is the movie that led the American Humane Association to enforce animal safety in films from then on. All those disclaimers in the credits saying no animals were harmed during filming are a direct result of what happened on the set of Jesse James.
Versions of the story differ, but the bottom line is a horse was killed for a camera shot. The director wanted the first ever shot of a horse and rider plunging over a cliff into a river below from the rider’s point of view. Pretty exciting shot, right?
So here’s how you pull that off. Some said the horse was blindfolded with a camera strapped on and spooked off the cliff. Others said the unwilling horse was led onto a chute and dumped forward off the edge, scrambling to fight its fate the whole way.
Stories also conflict about how the horse died. Some said it panicked when it hit the water and drowned. Others said the horse broke its back in the fall and had to be euthanized.
But either way, they got the shot. And the horse ended up dead.
I spent a good chunk of my youth growing up on a farm where animal cruelty was definitely on display. In my later years, I’ve gotten pretty sensitive about animal issues. I have a half-sister who works at a vet clinic in NYC. I’m not a member of PETA, but she is. I understand where they’re coming from, but I wasn’t always sure starting out at 10 by throwing paint all over someone’s fur coat was the smartest approach. To me, it was like calling a police officer a pig when they walk up to your window after pulling you over. Not the best conversation starter.
I spend a fair amount of time cuddling with our rescue Boston Terrier. She was tortured during her first year of life by a breeder who kept her on a concrete pad. Her feet never touched grass. Not only did he starve her for a 2-week period after she delivered stillborn puppies from being bred too early, he burned her legs with lit cigarettes.
Thank God a neighbor found out about the mistreatment and began the rescue process by abducting her. This beautiful creature has been in our home for 7 years now and has found a peace with us, and us with her. She brings my blood pressure down. When I look at her breathing softly on my forearm, I can’t imagine mistreating her.
And I gotta tell ya, if I ever catch the sonofabitch who burned my dog with a lit cigarette, I’m going to do a whole lot more than throw paint on him.