By Amy Skylark Elizabeth
I just watched the recent video “allegedly” (as the news reports put it) showing a man who was beating the living hell out of a camel in a live Nativity scene, and I’m bristling with anger. “Those poor camels have been smacked, kicked, choked by being pulled to the ground every time they try and stand up. My kids and I are absolutely heartbroken seeing them treat the camels this way. We didn’t even get the worst part recorded,” wrote the person who posted the now-viral video.
The display in question — which takes place annually at a medical center in Kentucky — has been canceled this year in light of this disturbing incident, but the facility claims that it has been renting animals from the same company for more than 20 years.
It’s chilling to watch YouTube videos of the center’s Nativity scenes in prior years and see the sheep, camels and donkeys used as props. As someone who has two donkeys who were rescued from abusive situations, I can only hope that all these animals weren’t also “allegedly” smacked, kicked and choked.
One thing that isn’t “alleged” is that animals used in Nativity displays are magnets for abuse. In 2014, a little donkey was crushed to death after a large man climbed into his pen and sat on his back to pose for pictures. He slowly died from injuries, which were likened to being “burst inside.” Other incidents include the barbaric beating of a donkey by three men in Virginia and the arrest of a West Virginia man who was caught sexually molesting a sheep used in a Nativity scene.
Some animals, frightened and confused, have broken away from displays. Anyone who has ever been around donkeys knows that they view dogs as predators. Even after two years, my miniature donkey Sam still becomes fearful and agitated when he sees my seven-pound Chihuahua. So it came as no surprise when I read about an incident involving a Nativity display in Richmond, Virginia, in which dogs attacked and mauled two sheep, causing a terrified donkey to bolt into the street, where he was struck by a car. All three animals had to be euthanized. A camel named Ernie was also hit and killed by a car when he escaped from a Maryland churchyard.
Even if they aren’t hurt or killed, animals used in seasonal displays often live in a perpetual state of discomfort and stress. Like all donkeys, my Luna is naturally cautious and doesn’t like sudden movements or loud noises. Yet donkeys and other animals are carted from one event to the next and subjected to a constant barrage of unfamiliar noises, camera flashes and activity while strangers try to touch them. Donkeys also have a hard time seeing things directly in front of their noses, so the sudden thrust of a hand at their muzzle or between their ears can easily frighten them, causing them to bite or kick
There are also other dangers lurking in the manger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that such displays put the public’s health at risk— and children are the most vulnerable to diseases including anthrax, salmonella, rabies, E. coli and ringworm. Infections are spread through direct contact with animals or even by simply touching the area surrounding an exhibit.
It doesn’t take a wise man or woman to see how quickly a season steeped in magic can turn tragic when live Nativity scenes are involved. I would never consider subjecting Sam or Luna to such a cruel spectacle.
And after watching this haunting video of Christmas present, I hope kind people will join me in refusing to patronize live-animal Nativity displays so that they can be relegated to Christmas past—where they belong.