Don't support holiday animal displays

Most brick-and-mortar retailers are feeling the squeeze of e-commerce, so getting shoppers off their devices and into the mall is priority number one. Yet, instead of offering fresh promotions to entice customers this holiday season, some malls are still resorting to displaying reindeer outside the food court or forcing beleaguered horses to haul carriages in the parking lot.

Rudolph is a beloved movie character, but real-life reindeer don’t want to pull sleighs. In their natural environment, they live in large social herds and migrate over vast distances. They rely on their numbers for protection from predators and can run up to 50 miles an hour. Being bred in captivity doesn’t make all their instincts disappear like Santa’s cookies on Christmas Eve.

Businesses that rent out reindeer haul them from venue to venue, sometimes traveling for hours on end, subjecting these sensitive and skittish animals to harsh artificial lighting, blaring holiday music and groping hands.

Shoppers’ health may also be at risk. Reindeer can harbor tetanus, leptospirosis, Lyme disease, rabies, warts, tapeworms and ringworm. Nothing ruins a Christmas outing like a trip to the E.R.

And it’s hard to spin a carriage ride dodging traffic on slush-filled streets as nostalgic, so why do shopping centers and community associations still offer them? Horses don’t react well to unexpected noises. Havoc can ensue from something as common as a car horn or a distracted driver.

Last year, two horses pulling a carriage during a neighborhood Christmas light display got spooked and took off running for a mile with 15 passengers on board, mostly children. The carriage eventually crashed, and the driver later died of his injuries. A year earlier, a Maine woman riding in a horse-drawn carriage had died when a car crashed into her on Christmas Day. Six other people were also injured.

Other mercenary promotions include camel rides. Forced to plod in endless circles or passed from one shopper to the next, these animals can quickly become exhausted and stressed.

For most people, the holiday season means a jam-packed schedule. But surely we can spare a thought for animals and how strange, stressful and frightening it is to them to be hauled around the country and exposed to noisy crowds.

Children don’t learn to respect animals or learn anything meaningful about them when they see them outside a food court or slogging across an icy parking lot. Instead, they get the harmful message that animals can be forced to do whatever we want, as if they were nothing more than props or equipment. Parents and grandparents can and must explain to their little ones why reindeer belong in the wild, not in the mall.

Goodwill should extend to everyone, including animals.

Jennifer O’Connor is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.



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