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Animals at State and County Fairs

The state- and county-fair circuits are rife with exploitative animal displays. Animals suffer tremendously when they are carted from town to town and forced to perform; they live in an almost constant state of discomfort, frustration, depression, and anxiety.

Always on the move, exhibitors rarely take the time to rest and exercise animals, and sick and injured animals often go without veterinary care. Please read the following information about the different types of animal exhibits that are featured at fairs. If you encounter any of these cruel displays and see an animal in distress, please contact local authorities immediately.

Animals as ‘Prizes’

Most fairgoers quickly tire of their goldfish, rabbit, or iguana “prize,” and the animals are often abandoned and left to die or are simply thrown in the trash.

Big-Cat Photo Sessions

Booth operators at many state and county fairs breed big cats to draw paying customers. Once they grow too large to be safely handled, older animals are frequently discarded at roadside zoos or sold to exotic-animal dealers.

Three 11-day-old tiger cubs died when exhibitor Craig Perry, operator of Perry’s Exotic Animal Petting Zoo, used them in photo sessions. Although Perry knew that the cubs were sick, he did not provide them with veterinary care. Since 1990, more than 200 dangerous incidents involving big cats have been reported.

Elephant and Camel Rides

Life on the road for elephants is in profound contrast to their lives in the wild. Elephants are highly social animals who live in matriarchal herds. They are protective and caring, and they travel together as families. Captivity-induced health problems such as foot diseases and arthritis are common and life-threatening. Camels, too, are free-roaming animals who are confined to transport trailers and small pens, despite their imposing size. Displays featuring camels also put people at risk: Humans can contract brucellosis, ringworm, and tuberculosis from close interaction with camels.

Exotic-Animal Shows

Exploitative events such as “Sea Lion Splash” and dancing-bear shows portray intelligent animals as silly clowns. The acts that these animals are forced to perform are demeaning, and trainers often employ cruel behind-the-scenes training techniques—such as beatings and food deprivation—to force animals to perform tricks that are unnatural, frightening, and even painful.

4-H and Agricultural Displays

The young boys and girls who participate in these events often don’t know that the animals they raised and love will be slaughtered for monetary gain.

Mouse or Rat ‘Roulette’

Small rodents—such as mice, rats, and gerbils—are placed on a roulette-style wheel, which is then spun. Dizzy and reeling, the animals eventually drop into a hole on the board. People who placed their bets on the number that the animal drops into “win” a prize.

Petting Zoos

The animals used in petting zoos are hauled around in tractor-trailers, confined to small pens and cages, and forced to interact with large crowds of people. The animals are rarely allowed to rest when on display, and they often develop health problems from this forced interaction.

Pony Rides

Tethered tightly to turnstiles and forced to plod in endless circles, ponies can suffer from hoof ailments, and many suffer from sore, chafed skin caused by ill-fitting equipment. Ponies are not protected by the federal Animal Welfare Act, and when local or state authorities fail to intervene, the outcome can be fatal.

Racing or Diving Pigs and Greased-Pig Contests

Highly intelligent and sensitive animals, pigs—including some who are young and still developing—endure mishandling, noise from crowds, and blaring music in these contests. Spectators at these events, especially children, often do not know that most of the pigs are sold for slaughter at the end of each season.


Unfortunately, the rodeo—a violent spectator “sport”—is a staple at many state and county fairs in the West and the Midwest. In rodeos, gentle animals such as horses and calves are provoked with spurs, tail-twisting, or electric prods or have straps cinched tightly around their abdomens to make them buck and run wildly around the arena.

What You Can Do

If you see cruelty to animals at any state or county fair, don’t hesitate to take action. Anyone can file a cruelty-to-animals complaint or ask the local animal control agency to check on an animal.

Visit PETA’s Action Center to read about more ways to help animals.

Commenting is closed.
  • Kenziestx says:

    Today my family and I went to the Dixie Classic Fair in Winston-Salem, NC. I was unaware of the animal aspect of the fair, as we just moved to N.C. a few months ago. We were walking through the midway and I came across an area blocked off for a type of “circus” show. I walked around the back to explore and found 4 tigers, including one white tiger confined to VERY small cages. 2 of the 4 were pacing non-stop. They had no blankets, straw or anything comfortable. They had no water. It saddened me very much. I feel so horrible for those tigers and I can’t seem to get them out of my mind.
    The petting zoo wasn’t as bad, most of the animals seemed happy to get the attention and the carrots that everyone was feeding them. The camel was trapped in a very small area where he could barely turn around and subsequently seemed upset and was biting children’s jackets and peoples hair. The ponies seemed sad, walking around and around the same same circle.
    The worst part by far was seeing those tigers. Such beautiful creatures. Wild creatures. Not meant to be a side show attraction.

  • Monica567 says:

    I just went to the Utah State Fair and was appalled by the treatment of their pigs and goats. Every handler had a stick and they were not afraid to use them. Even the youngest handlers, I’m talking ten and younger, had no respect for these creatures. I watched one kid ram his stick into the side and head of his pig because the pig was heading in the wrong direction. When that didn’t work another kid kneed the pigs side. It almost looked like the handlers were enjoying the control over their property. Not one person showed any signs of compassion for these animals. Their wasn’t any warmth in any of their expressions. Even the Kids looked angry when working with these animals. There was absolutely no gentleness in their touch either. At one point I saw a kid, couldn’t have been older than eight, waking a sleeping pig by first slapping the pigs side, head, then hitting him directly in the face a numerous amount of times. When the pig was still too exhausted to get up the father stepped in and hit the pigs side numerous times with a stick and slapped the pigs face. The goats were extremely friendly. They cr
    Begged for attention and closef their eyes clearly enjoying an affectionate touch. I witnessed a handler yank the choke chain from around the goat’s slender neck and pull the goat down an isle of on lookers. I didn’t see an ounce of concern or compassion from any handler at the Utah State Fair. I only saw handlers who looked at these animals as purely property, which gave them the right to treat these animals however they saw fit. Maybe they are fed well and given shelter, but their quality of life is poor. I only saw sadness in their eyes. They curled up together in their small cages yearning for affection, only to be cruelly woken up. I’m not saying that everyone who owns a goat, pig, horse, or any other farm animal treats their animals this way. Just because an animal is regularly fed and sheltered doesn’t mean that the care taker is doing a good job at taking care of their animal.. Every animal that inhabits this earth deserves respect and compassion. No different than us. Anyone who believed differently is ignorant.

  • PizzaPie says:

    Please boycott fairs that offer the 4-H “Pig Scramble”. There is nothing entertaining about watching children untrained in handling livestock being goaded into grabbing ypung pigs’ legs, injuring them, ad stuffing them in a bag. If you think this sounds like “crazy animal activist” talk, then please go to one of these events and observe this first-hand, so you can add to the discussion with your own experience rather than just theoretical views.

  • kfitch says:

    The show animals such as lambs, goats, cattle, swine, rabbits, and poultry have better living conditions than house pets. I show lambs and love it. They always have fresh water and get fed on a regular basis, they never starve. If you think FFA and 4-H’s show just to get money then you’re wrong. Go step into the shoe of a shower and learn what it is about. These animals teach you responsibility, patience, and compassion. Almost every kid knows that their animal will be slaughter because you can see it in the pen before it leaves, and parents will tell them. My 5 year old brother knows that they get slaughter. So go step into the shoe of a shower for a year and learn what it is about and stop accusing

  • Jenifer says:

    I just left the Miami Dade Youth Fair and was disgusted with a company called Show me Safari Petting Zoo. The animals could not even turn around in the small cages. When I complained to the owner, some “Redneck” from Missouri, he told me oh well. I can’t stop thinking about the poor camel and zebra. Very sad. How can we put these people out of business?

  • Jessy says:

    You people are ridiculous. I have been raised at county and state fairs. These animals have better accommodations than most house pets. The sheep that I own and care for are kept in a warm barn, heated by a wood burning stove, lay on a new bed of straw every day, always have clean water, abundant food, and are showered with love and attention. No matter what you do or say, the common farmers and people of the world will forever keep their animals. My lambs go to fair because everything on this earth was put here by God to die. So please, stop invading our fairs and fun. Sincerely, a ticked off farmer who is SICK of your disgusting views and tunnel vision acts.

  • Cotton says:

    I am a member of the 4-H livestock program and I can say from experience that most of the people and kids involved in this program know exactly what happens to their animals after the show. Not every animal is sold after the show, I showed eight heifers the last year that I showed livestock and we still have all of them and they have always been treated well.

  • Intelegent_being says:

    You really shouldn’t take a single instance of an animal being mistreated and say that it is always the case, that’s just being ignorant. Catsrule and horselover have the right of it. Some of the most spoiled and well cared for creatures I have ever seen were 4-H or FFA projects, those kids know the fate of their animal and know that if they don’t care for it it won’t perform as it should. My family raises meat chickens, they are never mistreated and we know the butcher, they don’t suffer at all.

  • catsrule44 says:

    I know for a fact that rodeo bulls are some of the luckiest cows out there. They are fed the finest food and only have to work 8 seconds at a time as well as being let out in a humongous open pasture to eat grass and hay and breed with cows. That tight rope is not hurting them it tickles them and some bulls don’t even need it so they just put it on there. It is not cruel or inhumane and I also agree with the horselover about her horse. Sure exotic shows are wrong duh no wild animal was ever meant to interact with humans in confined space and not be taken care of by a vetrinarian but the rodeo and 40h bs that is silly I showed cows for five years all my cows were raised on the farm and died on the farm. My heifers I showed we used to breed and then they would retire my bulls would be sold only to certified farms who needed a breeding bull with restricted selling rights I was passionate about my cows.Not everything done to animals is cruel but yes most of it is just research before you assume.

  • Cow Lover says:

    really a fair would not be a fair without animals. Ha Ha

  • emily324 says:

    im shocked! it has brought me to tears. some times things like this seem too good to be true. they lie to your face when you ask them about the care of the animals. im speechless.

  • horselover says:

    this is all messed up. serieously! i LOVE my horse! and my animal. but i LOVE RODEO!! all you people who think rodeo animals are abused. your stupid! my horse is never FORCED to do something she doesnt like. i take better care of my horse than i do myself! i ASK her to do everything and if she says NO then there is a REASON for it!! She gets massages and chiropractic work and her hooves are always taken care of! shes well groomed and fed PERFECTLY! when i barrel racer her i use my body cues more than i do my hands on the bit. and i have thick protective boots on ALL FOUR of her legs. i used a mild bit when im riding her and i ALWAYS treat her right. DONT JUDGE SOMETHING UNTIL YOU HAVE TRIED IT AND KNOW ALL THE FLIPPING DETAILS BEHIND IT!!!!

  • Becca says:

    Please everyone Boycott Strates Shows, one of the largest county fair exotic animals exploiter!

  • comerford petting zoo says:

    We were sickened as a family today when we witnessed elephant and camel rides at the Big E in Springfield Massachusetts. I asked the worker how long the elephant was being held a slave and he ignored me. Then my daughter saw two workers bringing in two minature horses and putting them into the petting zoo. One worker dragged the little horse and hit him hard as he was going into the pen. PLEASE investigate this horrible horrible place where these poor innocent animals are being held captive. Thank you,
    Linda M. Salvatore