Expert Calls Santa Monica Animal Exhibits Inhumane

Santa Monica Inhumane Animal Exhibits

Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Marc Bekoff

Santa Monica Inhumane Animal Exhibits

Marc Bekoff, award-winning scientist, author, and member of the Ethics Committee of the Jane Goodall Institute, calls the animal exhibits at the Sunday Main Street Farmers Market in Santa Monica “thoroughly inhumane.” The author of the popular book “The Emotional Lives of Animals” writes, “Tethering animals so they cannot have freedom of movement and the freedom to get away from harassment and noise is as inhumane as keeping the animals in tiny cages in petting zoos, where they suffer physically and emotionally.”

Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Bekoff is a fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a past Guggenheim Fellow. In 2000 he was awarded the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. Bekoff is also an ambassador for Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, in which he works with students of all ages, senior citizens, and prisoners to identify neighborhood problems and implement solutions.

Santa Monica Inhumane Animal ExhibitsTogether with famous conservationist Jane Goodall, Bekoff co-founded the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

After viewing photos and a video of the tethered pony ride and cramped petting zoo at the Main Street Farmers Market, Bekoff writes, “I always ask people would you do this to your dog and after a moment of silence many say of course not – then why in the world would they do this to other sentient beings? Like all mammals, including cats and dogs, ponies are sentient beings who do not like being tied down, being forced to walk in circles.”

Each Sunday at the 2640 Main Street Farmers Market, six ponies tethered to a metal bar are forced to walk in tiny circles on concrete for almost four hours, often in the heat, with car exhaust in their face and band music hammering their ears. Next to tethered ponies is a petting zoo, where an alpaca and zebu are tightly penned.

Bekoff refutes arguments that the animal exhibits are educational. “This sends the wrong message that it’s okay to treat animals like this and that they don’t mind being tethered or kept in cages.”

marcy-201Bekoff co-authored with Jane Goodall “The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care for the Animals We Love.”

To learn more about his work and to read his essays, visit and Psychology Today.

To learn more about the Committee to Free the Pony, visit here.

Marcy Winograd


  1. says

    Thank you, RZ, for opening the dialogue. If you’d like to see convincing evidence — photos of the tethered and trapped animals — visit a web site dedicated to moving Santa Monica from a bygone era in which animal entertainment was sanctioned into the modern age where forcing ponies to plod for hours is recognized as cruel and unnatural.

    Consider the restriction of freedom.

    Ponies tethered to a metal bar, one behind the other, often nose to tail, do not have the freedom to turn around, reverse direction, or seek water when thirsty. Instead, they must wait for water to be offered. The opposite of freedom is slavery, so what we have is an animal slave train and what we are teaching children is that it’s all right to enslave, tether, trap. It’s not all right, not only because ponies and other animals are feeling, suffering sentient beings but also because residents in Santa Monica have complained for years about animal cruelty institutionalized at the Main Street Farmers Market.

    When complaints — multiple petitions with thousands of signatures, and protests which result in jail time for a dissenter — go ignored or are brushed aside, the community feels disempowered and negated or what the great psychologist Abraham Maslow might have described as not belonging. This is the opposite of the ideal, in which residents feel a sense of self-efficacy, as though their voice matters and can — to quote Maslow — self-actualize or reach their full potential. Hence, ultimately the tethered ponies become a metaphor for community coercion in which an outside force imposes its will on others, often rationalizing the imposition to justify what the subjects find repugnant.

    Still there is hope, always another day, another dawn, another voice in the wilderness of sand and surf that shouts to the heavens, “Free the pony!”

    • Jackie says

      Beautifully said, Marcy. I just want to point out one fact that everyone seems to have overlooked.

      Where, on any farm, have you seen pony-powered merry-go-rounds such as the one at the entrance to the Main Street FARMERS Market? What does this activity (outdated, and even outlawed in many cities for
      humane reasons) have to do with farms, farmers, or growing fruits and vegetables?


      Laura Avery, the director of the Santa Monica Farmers Markets (which are mostly wonderful, by the way, especially the amazing Wednesday market) told me the pony merry-go-round is how the ponies earn their keep. Really?

      If some people want pony rides at the farmers markets, then at least have the ponies led on trails, perhaps at the Saturday Farmers Market at Virginia Park where there is lots of open space. Carrying on the tradition of a pony-powered merry-go-round at Main Street just because it’s been there for so many years is wrong and reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s, “The Lottery,” a story many of us read in high school.

  2. R Zwarich says

    I wish that we had access to more evidence here. Until we do, Ms. Winograd is simply not making a very strong case. While Dr. Bekoff’s credentials are impressive, these very credentials also suggest the possibility that he might be biased toward a particular point of view. It would be far more convincing to see the video and photos that Ms. Winograd supplied to Dr. Bekoff, (who apparently has not seen the actual condition of the animals in question), so that we could make our own assessment.

    If animals are being mistreated, then this activity should definitely stop, but after having read all of Ms. Winograd’s posts, I have yet to see any convincing evidence that these animals are being subject to cruelty or mistreatment. Would we make our dogs do this? (Dr. Bekoff’s criteria). Dogs are kept by people as beloved pets. They usually live in people’s homes, and often sleep in people’s beds with them. This is a status not enjoyed by most barnyard animals. The animals in question here, a number of ponies, and other barnyard animals, are clearly working animals who are expected to earn their keep. Working in the hot sun, doing monotonous work, surrounded by traffic fumes and jarring noises, certainly sounds unpleasant. I am a retired carpenter, however, who spent several decades working outdoors doing very heavy labor in a climate zone that was extremely hot and humid in the summer, and extremely cold in the winter. As in many such rugged trades, a person’s pain threshold is a major determinant of that person’s ability to make a successful living in my trade. By comparison, working 4 hours a day, as Ms. Winograd says these animals do, even under the unpleasantly rugged conditions that she describes, does not sound nearly as unpleasant as the 8-12 hour days (and more) that millions upon millions of people put in every day to earn their living, doing many forms of hard physical labor under ruggedly unpleasant conditions.

    Again, if these animals are being subjected to cruelty or mistreatment, then this activity should be stopped. I have not seen firsthand the conditions under which these animals work, but from all the evidence that Ms. Winograd has presented, her contention that these animals are being mistreated is simply not convincing.


    • Buddyg says

      RZ, at the outset I’ll disclose that I”m Marcy’s husband, so I’m sure that qualifies me, too, as “biased”. First, as reflected by Dr. Bekoff’s views, we as a society are becoming increasingly enlightened as to what treatment of animals we tolerate. For example, while we can argue about whether zoos should exist at all, most contemporary ones have recognized that confining animals that are used to roaming the wild in small cages is not humane, and as a matter of zoo self-interest, will not lead to a cheerful experience for most visitors, who don’t want to see lions and polar bears desultorily pacing in their small enclosures. We have enacted laws in recent times far more restrictive of animal mistreatment than used to be the case. So we are evolving in the direction of understanding that we humans share the planet, and do not dominate it, or if we try to do so, we will destroy the ecological system and harm co-habitants in the process.

      As to your point that cats and dogs are pets and horses are “working animals”, who has decreed that to be the case? Horses in the wild don’t report to work for humans; their work, in that environment, would be finding food and water, protecting their young, fending off attacks from predators, and otherwise surviving. In some elemental ways, that’s what humans do, too.

      For humans, unlike the animals we decide to force to work for our entertainment and/or enrichment, we have a choice. Our choices are limited by our education, inheritance (or lack thereof), connections, environment, good or bad fortune, various challenges and many other factors, but we remain relatively free to decide how much physical, emotional and other kinds of pain we are willing to endure in order to make a living. And where we as humans are not free to make those choices, because of government or other forms of repression, we correctly rail and protest against that loss of freedom.

      But animals generally do not live in the Ayn Randian/Adam Smithian world of market freedom. As free beings, we have a responsibility to respect the fact that most animals do not have the ability to demand (or escape to) their freedom, but they are not in a position to make the cost/benefit analysis that you did as a carpenter. I have been an advocate for working people for over 30 years, and I respect the work you did and the hardships you suffered, and the creativity and diligence and care you undoubtedly demonstrated in honing and working at your honorable craft. And I fully understand that most workers in this world are exploited in a very real way, because the bosses and coupon-clippers and others in the 1% are too often not really contributing of value yet they reap the profits. But animals are not workers, and should not be viewed that way, because we hold the key to their freedom, and once we compare them to us (e.g., that they should earn their keep much as we do), then they should be treated as free beings and treated humanely; our best hope of figuring out how to do that is to ask ourselves whether we as humans would accept such treatment, or whether we would treat our beloved domestic creatures in that way. There are ways to bestow love and caring on animals, RZ, and having them plod about in a small circle tethered to a pole for hours on end is not a way to do that.

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