Letter: Sad About Spruce Haven

letter to the editor

It was with a sad heart that I sat and listened to our city counsel discuss the options about what to do with the animals at Spruce Haven Zoo on Monday evening.

It was very obvious that hardly anyone of them had ever visited Spruce Haven nor had they read or paid any attention to the very educational information that Katherine MacRea had sent to every councilor.

Frank Fata asked Ken Marshall many questions that seemed to be almost rehearsed.   It was apparent that Fata knows nothing about wild animals or their care .   He thought that Ben the bear, living in a 20×20 foot cage was just fine.  I wonder how Fata would like to live in such a small space with nothing to do for 30 years!  He also said there was no point to moving the animals from one zoo to another zoo.  He did not even know or understand that a sanctuary is totally different from a zoo. Again, it was obvious that Fata had not read any  of the information that was provided to him.When he asked if Ken Marshall had sought advice about his animals he answered a few times that he had talked to a” lot of people”.  Yet not one councilor asked the obvious question.  Just who were these people giving him advice? Not anyone with experience.

Today I made two phone calls.  One to Aspen Valley Animal Sanctuary who would be taking Ben into their care if council had voted to have these animals removed from Spruce Haven. and one to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.  This is where the lions would go should they be removed from the zoo.

The misinformation surrounding this situation is astounding!

For one thing, Ben would not be attacked by other bears if he went to Aspen Valley.  He would be in his

own enclosure which is at least an acre in size.  He would have trees, grass, fresh water and food designed for his natural diet. He would have a habitat where he could explore and move around freely without being confined to a small cage. The sanctuary has moved many older bears without harm.

Ken Marshall said that the reason that Ben paces back and forth is because he can detect storms coming the next day, or that he can smell strong perfume and that makes him pace.  When I asked the representative about this, she actually laughed.

Ben paces because he is bored, with no stimulation. He has nothing to do and nowhere to go. Again, council should know better or at least have checked these things out for themselves.

The Wildlife Sanctuary in Colorado is a beautiful facility.  If the two declawed lions were sent there, they would have their own huge enclosure.  They would still be together because they grew up together.  They would not be able to be harmed by any other lions.

I was told that they have rescued lions from all over the world. even as far away as Argentina.

Do our councilors just merrily agree with the Marshalls  and not even look at the material that was given to then?  They could have made a couple of quick phone calls themselves.

I’d like to paraphrase Paul Christian’s answer when it came time to vote.  He said that as a teacher he knows that young people are so much more aware about animals and their conditions. His students understand that animals are much more sentient than we give them credit for,  and that young people care about what happens to animals.  He voted to have the animals moved and I am grateful to him.  He seemed to be much more on the ball than certain other councilors.

The other animals at Spruce Haven live in appalling conditions too.  Cages that are too small and that provide nothing natural for them.  It’s very sad.

It is time for these small zoos to give up their animals in order that they will have a much better life. How blind do you have to be to not see that it is not right to keep these animals in captivity?  Do you think it is a good idea to take your children to these places so that they too can grow up thinking that animals deserve to be in small cages?

Your child would be better educated by watching nature documentaries or visiting sanctuaries to see how animals really are.

We are supposedly smarter than people were many years ago.  We now know that animals have emotions, feelings, intelligence, and awareness.

They are living beings.  They should either be in the wild, or in sanctuaries if they are injured or have been harmed so that they can no longer be in their natural habitat.

They do not deserve to be in small wire enclosures to be stared at as though they are museum exhibits.

I have no doubt that the Marshalls love their animals and care for them as best they know how.

The problem is, they are misguided.  It’s like saying “I love my children but I want them to be confined to the house”  “They only need us without outside interference.”.

Ken Marshall saying that moving the animals would kill them is wrong.  These sanctuaries have been doing this for many years and they know how to do what is best for the animals they take in. (Again, when asked how he knew this he replied that he had talked to many “people” and that is what they told him.) And again , none of the councilors asked who these “experts” were.

I would like to thank the councilors who were in favor of the animals being moved.  As for the others I am pretty darn sure they did no research on this or else they would know that what they are doing is wrong. Either that or they just don’t care.It makes me wonder how many other issues having to do with our city are put forward without any background knowledge or further research.

As for  people who think those of us who are trying to give these animals some comfort in their senior years  are fanatics…  You are wrong.  We are only trying to help these captive animals live a better life. And despite what you say about loving these animals. I can only tell you that we love them too.  The difference is that we love them enough to want what is best for them.

Wild animals, except for the reasons I explained above, should not be in captivity or used as a way to make money, especially when they are condemned to live out their entire lives in small inadequate housing with no stimulation for their very intelligent minds.

Thank you to those councilors who were wise and aware enough to want to move the animals.  As for the rest of you, you should hang your head in shame.  You did not do your homework and you did not make your decision using  any kind of thoughtful information.

Karen Johns


  1. I have a question, and perhaps someone from City hall could answer this. If the Marshalls are allowed to keep their animals, but are not allowed to have any more than those that are already there, is someone going to ensure that the six wolves they have now are fixed so that they can no longer breed? Unless of course they are all the same sex. I feel this is something that was overlooked in all the talk about Spruce Haven.

  2. I, too, was appalled as I watched the live coverage of city council online.

    Every answer Mr. Marshall gave seemed like he had no education in the field of animals and is running this zoo in a redneck mentality. He doesn’t need a fire plan, he just needs a hose! He doesn’t need the MNR or the Humane Society, he just needs security cameras and a gun.

    Any argument that they love and care for these animals welfare can be nullified by the simple statement he made during this meeting.

    Mr. Marshall stated that they would be instating an animal enrichment program this year for the caged wildlife.

    Really? After 20 years, you don’t even have an enrichment program in place? This is something you are just thinking about NOW, in the golden years of these animals lives?


  3. So this is like a bunch of 12 year old kids calling everyone names and stomping there feet because they can’t get there way. Get over it I’m not sure why you hate the Marshalls they have done a great job maybe you should go help instead of being so negative with cleaning and feeding and vet bills. Oh ya your not welcome get a life.

    • First of all, I do not hate the Marshalls. What I do hate is to see animals living in substandard conditions ,existing in too small enclosures and being so bored that they start to go insane.
      The Marshalls are selfish for leaving these animals to suffer in order that they can make money by having them as exhibits.
      If the Marshalls truly cared about these animals they would be happy that there are wonderful (free)options for these animals.
      As examples, Ben could be living in a natural (as possible) environment in hos own acre sized enclosure. Aspen Valley would make sure that his health is closely monitored, his diet would be made up exclusively for him and he would have access to veterinarian care always!
      The lions could be living in a sanctuary, together yet separated from the other lions. The Wildlife Sanctuary in Colorado (whom I spoke to yesterday, again,) has rescued lions from these small inadequate zoos from all over the world. They go to assess the lions health before they are moved. If an animal is found to be unhealthy, they make sure they ARE healthy before they travel. This includes sending food and medicine for ailing felines. They told me that every cat has its own needs’ and in order to keep elderly lions comfortable they actually have heated beds for them them!
      The reason these sanctuaries exist is because the people who work there love animals and want them to enjoy their lives instead of being in cages that are more like a jail cell than a home.
      If the Marshalls truly loved these animals they would want what is best for them. As for helping them,why would I? I don’t want to help someone who is doing something that I believe is wrong on so many levels.
      I am standing by the animals and would be overjoyed to see that they are getting a little freedom for the first time in their lives.
      I understand that the Marshalls took in some of these animals when they were young and of course it is good that they saved their lives, but they should have gone to real sanctuaries years ago.
      And please don’t tell me to get a life. I have a life! I have been helping animals for decades and I won’t stop until the day comes when I can’t draw a breath.

      • You think your an expert on animals and are calling the Marshalls greedy and think they are prospering think again. And you must TALK TO THE ANIMALS lol to know there not happy. What makes you think he said she said is correct for these animals at this stage of life. Get a life.

        • I never said I was an expert on animals. But I’ve been around enough wildlife to know the basics of what makes them suffer. Wild animals want to be free and that is true from the smallest to the largest of animals. How can being in a very small enclosure for 20 or 30 years be what is best for them? Would you like to try it? I suggest you do some research and investigate what happens to captive animals. As a society we are now much more aware of just how much animals feel and think, and most of us realize that animals are much smarter and more emotional than we give them credit for. Now for your own education, please check out this wonderful place where the lions would be going if allowed. Really look, and then try to tell me that the animals at Spruce haven are better off where they are.

        • John, if you yourself had done half the research Karen has, bothered to seek answers to a few questions, and/or consulted with Wildlife Professionals at these Sanctuaries, you might have some credibility calling out others on their knowledge of wild animals kept in captivity.

          After you have at least spoken to those who operate a Sanctuary, or perhaps even read Dr Obbard’s full report, maybe then you can think about giving advice to others.

    • Why are you bothering to comment on this when you don’t care about animal welfare?

      Are you pro-zoo? If so, then your beliefs and values are the opposite of ours. You are never going to convince an “anti-zoo-er” that animals are ok in small cages, the same way that we are never going to convince you that animals deserve larger spaces. We can agree to disagree on this.
      We are here not to change your mind but to ask council to make an informed decision based on facts.

      • See that’s where you are totally wrong. I have been a hunter and trapper for 45+ years now I know animals and the bush more than any of you. I spend weeks every year in the bush and know the habits of many of these animals. You people are probably the same ones that put your own parents in a nursing home because its to much work for you. They used to be able to travel now they are stuck in a 10×10 room same thing is it not.

        • Good for you, John. I’ve no reason not to believe you are an expert in Hunting and Trapping.

          However, if I want Information about a plan to care for and rehabilitate wild animals that have spent their lives in unnatural settings and tiny cages, I think I will trust the Wildlife Specialists at accredited sanctuaries for that information.

          No offence to you in your field of expertise, but I think they’ve got this one covered.

        • John saying that you know animals and the bush better than all of us is a scurrilous statement. I practically grew up in the bush. My grandfather and uncles were loggers and I spent much of my childhood in their logging camps deep in the bush. I’ve studied animals for years and have had gentle,close up encounters with a mama bear and her two cubs, a female moose with her baby, raccoons, foxes, wolves and other wildlife. (some foxes have a den right now under my camp where they come every year to have their young and raise them until they are old enough to be on their own) . So please don’t say that you know more than the rest of us. I have wildlife encounters every summer when I go to live in my camp. Just because you are a hunter and a trapper(a despicable , tortuous practice) doesn’t mean or have anything to do with re-homing the sad animals at Spruce haven. You’ve offered no practical advice and you haven’t shown that you you know anything about these animals.
          If you are so informed about wildlife then you would know it’s not right to keep a bear for thirty years in a very small cage and that the animals in that zoo are suffering in isolation, in conditions that have no relation to what their natural lives would be in the wild. What you may have experienced in the bush has no bearing on these captive animals. None. Unless you can tell us how your expertise relates to these animals, it is a moot point.
          Did you even look at the wildlife Sanctuary videos?
          Stating that we are the same people who put our parents in nursing homes (because it’s too much work) is another useless, awful statement , and again has nothing constructive to say about what is going on at Spruce Haven.
          You don’t know us John, what our background is, what we know about animals and what we’ve experienced.
          Please stop making inane comments about us.
          If you trap animals, not caring how those animals suffer, why should we believe that you care anything about the animals at Spruce haven? If you are willing to inflict torture on wildlife, your comments are useless.

  4. Is there some avenue through which council’s decision could be legally appealed?
    \ And yes, Karen, my thanks as well for your efforts in obtaining some answers. I wondered myself about the lions’ safety post transport, knowing the behaviour of other lions toward nonmembers of their particular pride, but it appears this is nonissue.

    • I’m not sure about legalities Susan, as I don’t know all the ins and outs about Municiple Law. But i will ask Councilor Judy Hupponen for the answer to that question. Thank you for noticing that I did do research on how these animals would be treated if and when they are moved to sanctuaries. There has been a lot of nonsense spewed about “other bears ripping Ben apart” and other lions attacking the two declawed lions. After talking to both Aspen Valley and the Wildlife Sanctuary in Colorado, I was very pleased. Ben would have a natural enclosure of at least an acre in size all to himself where he could explore and act like a bear for the first time in his life. and as you’ve read, the lions would have a wonderful space for the two of them without being in contact with other lions. But people don’t want to listen. My heart breaks for all of the wild animals as Spruce Haven. They have been existing in substandard cages for years and years. I fail to understand why the people who say they love their animals would treat them like this, when they have an offer of free transportation to what would seem to the animals to be animal heaven. It’s also been said that Spruce Haven provides educational benefits. Again, this is nonsense. Seeing those animals in those conditions is not educational at all except that it teaches children that it is okay to make money off the backs of suffering animals.

    • You are right, it won’t be as they will be in their own enclosure. Awesome! Let’s get this thing going; these African lions do not deserve to be living where they are.

  5. Speaking out on an issue and standing up for what one thinks is right is not bullying.

    Name calling and trying to intimidate those who express their point of view, trolling on social media, and stooping so low as to accuse them of destructive acts to prove their point is closer to the definition of bullying.

    I myself, will never stop speaking out just because people like Bill choose to ridicule and call people names for doing so, simply because he doesn’t agree.

    To all those who speak out against the substandard conditions of animals being held in our community, please keep doing so.

    • I agree April. We are not bullies, nor are we using any “radical tactics” unless taking this matter to City hall is a radical tactic. I believe we are doing things in an orderly way. Those of us who stand up for animals have often been called radical and fanatics. These people who call us names have no understanding about animals or their care and are only spouting nonsense. These animals are suffering by being held captive in small cages and have spent years in boredom and substandard housing.
      I will always stand up for animals no matter what misinformed people say. The animals cannot speak for themselves so we try to do it for them. Anyone with a functioning heart can see how keeping these animals in these conditions is simply wrong . When children go to visit Spruce Haven and are reduced to tears because they feel sorry for the animals , it tells you something right there; that even the youngest among us can see that these conditions are not suitable for any animal.When people like Bill attack us it just rolls off my back. . Misinformation and claims that everyone is laughing at us is false. This is not a laughing matter. There may be differences of opinion on this matter but no one is laughing.

  6. My heart breaks for these animals. City Council should be ashamed of themselves. When my 7 year old even recognizes that these animals are living in cages that are far too small, how can Council just look the other way. One trip to Spruce Haven and you’d see the look in the eyes of poor Ben, or the large cats, and you’d see that they’re not living a happy life. If you don’t want to move them, make them enclosures that are sufficient. If you don’t have the means to do this, do what people that truely care for the well-being of each animal there want to do. Swallow your pride and do what’s right. Let these animals live out the rest of their lives comfortably. To members of Council that can see that this is wrong and the animals deserve better, thank you. I agree that those on Council that think that it is ok for animals to live like this should hang their heads. You don’t have a clue about what is required for these animals and you’re a huge disappointment to our City. You’re an even bigger disappointment to those animals that need you right now. Shame on you.

    • I suggest you go take your useless comments Bill Nash somewhere else and spend your time advocating for your friends you met in prison while we will carry on advocating for justice for wild life not cramped cages for captive wild life driven by greed and lack of empathy, emotional intelligence or compassion.

      • Ah, condensation and sarcasm how classy.
        I guess if you fail to convince then bully and bully again?
        Tip your tinfoil hats to the left today, the moon is in retrograde and you’ll get better reception if you lift one foot! Peace out!

        • Condensation?? say what you want Bill but we are not responsible for the rain. And if anyone would know how to get better reception from a tinfoil hat, it is you

          • So I’m annoying huh Karen? Sure sucks doesn’t it?
            What? It’s not okay to use the same bully tactics to call the bullies names? Gee whizz Spanky wonder how the Marshall’s feel after your after your relentless campaign of bullying? All warm and fuzzy I suppose.
            Laugh it up buttercup because the only joke I’m seeing is you and your little cadre of fanatic wanna bey’s virtue signalling and pontificating all over yourselves. Congratulations!! You take top spot on being the biggest NIMBYS on record
            Take a guess who is laughing at you and your antics, EVERYBODY All of you better take a good hard look in the mirror.
            You may also be surprised to find that bullying and radical tactics to get what you want then whining when you don’t has now fallen on deaf ears. Either find a way to help or please just shut up.

  7. Thank you, Karen for your letter. I wonder how history will look upon us for these backward decisions and the shameful, irresponsible comments made by Mr. Fata. Meanwhile, these animals continue to languish in their awful conditions all the world except Sault Ste Marie is aware of.

  8. I attended city council meeting on Monday night. Myself and others , overheard Mr. Marshall say he would euthanize the lions before he would send them to a sanctuary. Mrs Marshall nodded her head in agreement.
    Does this sound rational !! We all know the fate of these lions now. Shame on the six city counsellers who
    decided to keep these animals exactly where they are.

    • There is NO LOVE there for these unfortunate animals, not from the Marshalls that would prefer to kill their animals than allow them to have better lives, (As Ken Marshall said in Council he would do with the lions), nor from the cold hearted, ignorant Councillors (Fata, Turco, Krmpotich, Bruni, Grandinetti, Hollingsworth, Myers and Butland).

      It’s time for residents of Sault Ste. Marie DEMAND better from these Councillors that did not even carry out due diligence to understand the issues at hand, never mind even reading any background information or listening to wild life experts that presented previously at council.

      If these Councillors pay no heed to this issue and don’t do their homework do your really think they are doing their due diligence and homework on any other issue for Sault Ste. Marie?

  9. Hi Karen
    Thank-you so much for your well articulated letter. There is so much information on Social Media that is
    difficult for some people to understand the entire situation in perspective. The Marshall’s are in their late seventies and just can’t seem to grasp the idea that the animals they have held captive all these years deserve better. Finally people are speaking up for the animals and I hope they continue to do so. There have been accusations that the Marshall’s are being “picked on”. I would like to remind everyone that it’s not about the Marshall’s right now, it’s about the animals that are being held against their will in small cages.
    Let’s continue to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

  10. You ladies sound like a couple kids having a temper tantrum cause you didn’t get your own way hahaha

    • No Mike not the man, we are the people that actually care. The facts remain facts, Councillors admitted they were confused. Had these Councillors undertaken their due diligence this fiasco could have been avoided.

      It is important to call out their ignorance, total misunderstanding and lack of knowledge as representatives of our city, as I’m sure you would do if you actually cared, whether for the welfare of animals or on any other issue.

      It is apathetic community members like yourself that contribute nothing positive to Sault Ste. Marie other than an endless stream of inane commentary attacking the people that actually do care, instead of contributing something worthwhile to the City of Sault Ste. Marie. Just think if you actually spent that time you spend attacking the people that care enough to make a difference, to making a positive difference to your community yourself. Just imagine!

  11. I believe that he said the bear’s enclosure was 30 x 30 or 900 sq. feet.
    Still too small. It was quite obvious that the Councillors didn’t bother reading the material or calling anyone for clarification, I figured as much.
    Time for some new blood at city hall, many are past their due date.

    • It’s obvious these Councillors (Fata, Bruni, Grandinetti, Krmpotich, Turco) and previously (Myers and Butland) did not carry out ANY due diligence or even visit Spruce Haven to see the deplorable conditions for themselves. Further, Ben’s cage is closer to 20′ x 20′ and Ken Marshall was not even being honest about the size of it.

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