While the pandemic may have sparked most shoppers’ inexorable shift to online shopping, many see Christmas as an excuse to return to the mall. All the old stand-bys are waiting, and unfortunately that includes promotions involving live animals, such as reindeer shows and horse-drawn carriages.
Dasher and Dancer are beloved movie characters, but real reindeer don’t want anything to do with humans. In the wild, these social animals are constantly on the move, migrating vast distances across the tundra and even using their hooves as paddles to cross rivers and lakes. Their nose may not turn red, but depending on the season, their eyes change color to accommodate different light levels.
Reindeer don’t want to be petted or harnessed to sleds. When held in captivity, these large, strong animals retain their instinct to wander, and being loaded onto and off trucks, subjected to grueling journeys and surrounded during loud events is frightening and confusing for them. Being in close contact with shoppers, bright lights, and excited children is a totally inappropriate environment for a reindeer or any other animal. A few years ago a reindeer used as a Christmas prop at a Colorado shopping mall took a break and fled, and in the UK a reindeer used at a holiday event took off at full gallop in the street after being surprised by a car horn. Grandma could really get run over by a reindeer.
Reindeer pose other risks that might require an emergency room visit: They can harbor tetanus, leptospirosis, Lyme disease and salmonellosis, all of which are transmissible to humans.
Crowded mall parking lots aren’t a place for other animals, either, but horses pulling carriages dodge impatient drivers across the country. The season for horse-drawn carriage drivers to make money only lasts a few weeks, so horses have few breaks to rest or catch their breath. Carrying a load after a heavy load through ice and slush is exhausting. And when the pantyhose rubs against their skin for hours, it can cause sores and abrasions that may not be visible when covered by a harness.
Horses are extremely sensitive to loud noises and unexpected sounds, such as the horn of someone trying to requisition a parking space. They (as well as humans) can be seriously injured – some even died – when they got scared and rampaged or when reckless drivers have encountered them.
No one in authority guarantees that these animals receive proper food, water and care. Understaffed and overworked animal control departments lack the resources to monitor holiday shows and enforce anti-cruelty laws. Exhibitors who display animals consider this season to be their peak season, so the benefits usually outweigh the welfare of the animals.
This holiday season, spread peace and goodwill to all by refusing to support these exploitative displays and spreading the word.
Jennifer O’Connor is Senior Writer at the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.