I knew better.

When I was a kid, my parents took my brother and I to an amusement park in the Midwest (I don't remember what it was called), where one of the "attractions" was a cluster of small glass cages containing animals that had been taught to perform tricks for food.

I don't recall exactly how the tricks worked, but they were things like peck the keys of a miniature piano, or play some kind of mechanized version of tic-tac-toe. I definitely remember ducks and rabbits, but there may have been chickens, too. You'd put a quarter in and a light would go on and a buzzer sound, to tell the animal it was show time. The whole thing lasted only a few seconds. Then: darkness, quiet, and a few bites of reward.

I remember being tall enough that I could stand on the tips of my toes to see the cages without having to be held. I remember being little enough to not understand all of the emotions I felt watching these animals robotically going through their routines, then hovering expectantly over the chute into which the handful of kibble would tumble. There was fascination, of course, and delight - I was always an animal lover - but there was something else, too. Something less familiar, and much more complicated.

A few days ago I watched Blackfish. It was every bit as depressing and infuriating as it promised to be, and I came away feeling exactly as anyone with a heartbeat should feel: disgusted, saddened, indignant. In fact, I was so moved I tweeted about the film.

That's right. I was so enraged on behalf of animals who have been forcibly removed from their homes, separated from their young, and coerced for years to perform under the threat of food deprivation that I tapped some buttons on my computer's keyboard. I also signed a bunch of online petitions. Watch out, because I am an unstoppable fucking laptop activist. I expect to hear from the Nobel committee any day now.

I actually thought carefully about how to use my 140 characters. I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those naming Sea World publicly, to do the most damage to them, PR-wise. But I also wanted to say something along the lines of Can we please now finally agree that it's time to stop funding animal captivity?

But I realized I couldn't say that without my conscience laughing at me, because I've been to Sea World as recently as, oh, 2006. So my mind scrambled a little bit, trying to find a way to let myself off the hook. Yeah, but you thought all of those animals were, like, being rehabilitated or whatever. Or that, you know, some of them were part of some oceanographic study, to better, like, understand their biology, so we can, like, help preserve them as a species, or something. 

Or something.

Mental gymnastics: keeping my brain on the Olympic Cognitive Dissonance Team since 1980. Because yeah, no. I don't think so. I'm not letting myself off the hook for Sea World, circa 2006, or the Ringling Brothers Circus circa (and I'm guessing here) 1987, or even the piano-playing ducks from my childhood. Because if I was old enough to understand that I wouldn't want to be placed in a tiny cage away from my family, I was old enough to know that those animals didn't want that for themselves, either. And because the emotions I was too young to identify much less comprehend when I watched those animals, all those years ago, were empathy and shame. As they should have been.

What really pisses me off - at myself, that is - are the dollars I gave Sea World, as recently as my thirties. My thirties! I loved that place. Not the shows. I was always a little bit uncomfortable with the shows, knowing that there's just something wrong with an otter waddling upright to present a can of Coca Cola (logo facing front!) to a burping walrus, in front of a few hundred cheering humans.

The real draw, for me, was that interactive tide pool. Rolling up my sleeves and plunging my arms into the icy water, to gently scoop up a starfish, or a sea urchin, so I could just hold it. I've never been particularly science-minded; it was never about examining their bodies or learning their anatomy. It was just the thrill of being so close to an animal, a real live wild animal, that brought me joy. If you'd let me, I would spend hours bent over the stingray pool, nearly falling in as I reached further and further to just run my fingertips along their slippery skin. Seriously, my dad had to pry me away. Also, the aquariums. Loved those.

But I knew better. I knew there was something fishy about a tank full of dolphins who I could pay for the privilege of tossing a few anchovies to. I knew the sea lions, whose barking was so much fun to imitate, weren't quite as chuffed about being put on display for my afternoon's amusement.

Still, I went. Still, I forked over my admission money to see them, and to be near them. At amusement parks. At circuses. At zoos. Because I have always loved my fellow animals. I just haven't always loved them the way they should be loved, in the ways that are best for them.

I know I haven't said anything novel here. I just want to add my two cents - my teaspoon. I'd love to live in a world where it is not just illegal but morally taboo to even think about putting an animal in captivity for the entertainment of human beings. And I'd like to think that the more of us who take a minute to say how wrong we think it is, the more likely others will think twice about patronizing businesses that subjugate animals for profit.

So this is me just taking a minute to say how very wrong I think it is.