PETA hates the circus!
Gee, do they hate kids too???
"This booklet takes an upbeat approach to telling kids the things they have a right to know about the circus," said Ms. Phelps. "Kids love animals, and if they knew that elephants and other animals are beaten in order to force them to perform what are for them confusing and physically challenging tricks, they'd have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the circus."
But Phyllis Ohr, a clinical child psychologist familiar with the PETA campaign, said, "I wonder if PETA is considering the impact of their approach on the mental health of children who are so young and not able to process information and images the same way that adults do."
Rather than carefully weigh the abstract issue, younger children may personalize the message about animal cruelty in frightening ways, Ms. Ohr said in an e-mail exchange with The Times. "Some young children may believe their own pets are threatened or that they, themselves, are threatened by the cruelty of adults," she said. "Some children may become fearful of the circus animals rather than feel compassion.
"I believe that showing graphic images without considering the variety of ways a young child might respond is irresponsible. While I don't disagree with the agenda of PETA, I do believe that the way they have chosen to get their message across to young children is not in the best interest of these young children."
Ms. Phelps maintained that the PETA materials serve a greater good.
"Let's give kids credit," she said. "Kids love Ellie, our elephant mascot. They clamor for the coloring books and stickers. They would be far more upset if they like I did as a child - went to the circus and saw animals who they naturally love and respect being struck with sharp metal devices, shocked with hotshots and forced to perform at the crack of a whip. That is the stuff nightmares are made of."
Earlier this month, PETA targeted Fulton Elementary in Hempstead, N.Y., which had planned a school-sanctioned field trip of the kind the circus often organizes in the cities it visits.
Rodney Gilmore, assistant superintendent for the Hempstead School District, said that PETA came to the school without asking permission and distributed books and stickers to between 75 and 100 children on the sidewalk during dismissal, as the activists did in Baltimore.
"The visual presentation with the word 'murder' in the book and showing the animals in chains was very disturbing," Mr. Gilmore said. "I believe it was inappropriate the way it was done, and could have had an emotional and psychological impact on the children."