Animal rights groups hit out at Republican campaigning with bear: ‘It’s unfortunate and shameful’

‘Gone should be the days when wild animals were treated as toys or props,’ PETA says

Louise Hall
Thursday 06 May 2021 09:16
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Republican businessman campaigns with bear

A businessman running a campaign for governor in California has prompted backlash from animal rights activists after he launched his campaign alongside a 1,000-lb bear.

John Cox hired the Kodiak bear, which features heavily on his campaign adverts and website, to kick off his campaign for the recall against incumbent Gavin Newsom in Sacramento on Tuesday.

The animal could be seen milling about behind the candidate as he discussed his plans to make “big, beastly changes in Sacramento,” with an electrical wire separating the bear from the crowd.

Animal activists were quick to criticise the Republican businessman for his use of the animal as a “prop” on his campaign trail.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) branded the use of the bear as “shameful” in a statement.

“Gone should be the days when wild animals were treated as toys or props, so it’s unfortunate and shameful that Tag the Kodiak bear has been exploited in this way,” PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Debbie Metzler said.

She added: “Bears need to be left alone to live a bear life, not confined to a pen on asphalt and wheeled out for events”.

The non-profit organisation stipulated that it could not oppose or endorse any political party ahead of an election.

California animal rights group Social Compassion in Legislation also called the publicity stunt “shameless” and “blatantly exploitative.”

“This bear is not your prop to capitalize on! Californians want compassionate leadership!,” they said on Twitter.

KTXL reporter Karma Dickerson reported that the bear, named Tag, was born in captivity in a “private-type zoo” in Ohio and lives at Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife in Kern County.

His trainer told the reporter that he had worked on some film and commercial projects, and that this gig was his first political campaign.

Tag’s trainer, Keith Bauer, told The Independent that the bear has a personality of a “golden retriever” and that he “likes people”.

“He never was trained by his mother to hunt to fish to live in the wild,” Mr Bauer said. “What we do is we take him to different places, we expose him to different things we teach him new things to do.”

He said that anyone who attended the political event would say the bear appeared comfortable and never exhibited any kind of “aggression to anybody”.

He vehemently denied the company maltreats animals, saying they’re “very well taken care of”.

PETA claimed in its statement that the company has “a long history of citations for violating the most basic requirements of the federal Animal Welfare Act”.

A PETA “fact sheet” regarding Working Wildlife shared by the organisation claimed the company had been cited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a variety of issues.

They claimed the citations included failure to provide veterinary care, environmental enhancement, shelter from the elements, minimum space, ventilation, unclean cages, and improper feeding.

Mr Bauer insisted that any citations given by the USDA were minor “fix it orders” and were “never citations” for the way the company kept the animals, took care of the animals, or fed the animals.

The trainer insisted that animal rights advocates “don’t check the facts” and said the animals are provided adequate space in their enclosures, proper veterinary care, and food.

In response, Ms Metzler reiterated that the company has a “long history” of failing to meet minimum requirements set forth by the USDA, saying the “record speaks for itself”.

She said the distinction between a “fix it order” and a “citation” was “semantics”.

“Bears are wild animals, they belong in the wild,” she said.

Ms Metzler added: “PETA hopes that Mr Cox regrets this move and that he promises to never repeat it.”

Mr Cox suffered a landslide loss to Mr Newsom against the California Democrat in 2018. The Independent has contacted Mr Cox’s campaign for comment regarding the backlash.

The Independent has contacted the USDA for comment and clarification regarding the citations.

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