Saultonline reported on Sept. 17 that Ben, the lone bear at Spruce Haven Nature Park (aka zoo), had been euthanized.
Some local animal activists, noting the entire 31 years of Ben’s life were spent in captivity, his feet never knowing the feel of grass, want to turn his death into an election issue.
They have set their sights on the councillors who are running for re-election who voted early this year to grant Spruce Haven an exemption from the city’s new Animal Care and Control Bylaw, which bans zoos within city limits.
Those with targets on their backs are Sandra Hollingsworth, running in Ward One, Lou Turco in Ward two, Marchy Bruni in Ward 4 and Frank Fata and Ozzie Grandinetti in Ward Six.
Katherine MacRae, one of those leading the fight to keep Spruce Haven from being exempt from the bylaw, began the attack on the councillors by calling them out by name on Facebook with the hope that this would lead others to vote against them.
April Jokelainen said it concerned her that Ben was euthanized and we are all in the dark as to what happened.
“Was he under care of a veterinarian? What was his condition? Did the conditions under which he was held for so many years contribute to his condition? Was his enclosure size increased as promised?” she asked;
“What about the coyote that died earlier this year?
“Although these animals were aged, it bothers me that there is no accountability, or no way of knowing exactly what happened to them.
“I wonder, do the city councillors who voted to allow this Zoo to continue unchecked in our community care to find out what happened? Do they wonder about the circumstances of these deaths, or just accept the word of the zoo owners as they did when many claims and promises about the needed improvements and updates to the zoo were made?”
Karen Johns said it was awful to think that the last thing Ben saw was a barrel of a gun aimed at his head.
“I understand that a bullet is cheap and being shot would be quick,” she said. “But I believe that having him tranquillized and given a drug that would send him off in a painless sleep, perhaps being petted by those who supposedly “loved” him, would be a much more gentle way of putting him down.”
I attempted to find out how Ben was put down and it didn’t go over well.
“We had Ben for 31 years, why would you even call, why would you be so horrible,” the woman who answered my call said.
“A nice phone call saying ‘I am so sorry for your loss” would have been fine, but you horrible people, don’t even bother talking to me. The bear was a wonderful animal and for anybody with awful things to say about him is disgusting, so don’t even bother, thank you,” she said before hanging up abruptly.
Ben’s health had apparently been in decline, costing him his ability to walk.
I don’t think, considering his health, anyone will quarrel with Ben being put down, but it is understandable that some will remain upset because he was denied the opportunity to live out the few remaining months of his life at Aspen Wildlife Centre in Muskoka where, Coun. Judy Hupponen said, Zoocheck had offered to pay to have a large enclosure built for him so he could have more room to move in his senior years.
Would this possibly have lengthened his life? We will never know.
The Marshalls argued that the aged animal would not withstand the trip to a new home.
But animal activists argued in turn that the risk would be better than having him remain in the small enclosure which was his home at Spruce Haven.
There was a report that the MNR was at the scene when Ben was put down, which led to the thought that a bullet rather than drugs was the method used to Euthanize him.
But Erin Nixon of the MNR told me that it had no role in the decision to put Ben down nor was it present when he was put down.
But she said it was the understanding of the MNR that the bear was “humanely euthanized.”
I suppose I can understand the tirade launched against me by the woman, whom although she didn’t identify herself I suspect was Spruce Haven co-owner Helen Marshall, because I haven’t been exactly kind in my comments about Spruce Haven, writing several columns in which the central theme was always the call for it to be shut down.
But I couldn’t see myself taking any other stand since the conditions in which the animals live at Spruce Haven are as intolerable as they were at the zoo at Bellevue Park which council voted to close down years ago, small pens which meant they could only walk in circles.
Hupponen, who is running again in Ward 3, said there were three things about the new Animal Care and Control Bylaw that she was happy to say is statute law.
“Firstly, it gives our local humane society staff more authority to enforce the bylaw,” she said.
“Secondly, the bylaw has banned travelling circuses that use animals ( much thanks to Katherine MacRae for helping me with this) and thirdly it has banned zoos.
“This bylaw is the most comprehensive animal care and control bylaw in Ontario and perhaps Canada. I think it’s important for the public to know that if they see any kind of animal abuse, it should be reported immediately as we have laws now that can be enforced.
Although the bylaw bans zoos, Spruce Haven, as I mentioned above, was allowed to continue operation under a grandfathering exemption that was the result of the votes of Turco, Bruni, Grandinetti, Fata, Hollingsworth and Joe Krmpotich. The latter is not running again.
“I was so disappointed in these councilors,” Johns said. “I felt that they really didn’t give a damn about those animals and just looked at those of us who tried to help as people who could easily be ignored.”