'Unfortunate and shameful': Animal advocates slam John Cox's use of live bear in campaign stop

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- John Cox's running mate, so to speak, in the likely recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom sure is getting him a lot of attention. Bringing a 1,000-pound bear on a political tour of California is also unsurprisingly getting him a lot of criticism.

Cox showed off Tag the Kodiak bear at a campaign stop in Sacramento Tuesday. Tag munched on snacks, stared at the crowd and even groomed himself, all in front of the "Meet the Beast" bus with his big roaring face on it.

It was a publicity stunt, and it worked. (Here we are covering it, after all.) But it shouldn't have ever happened, say animal advocates.

"It's unfortunate and shameful that Tag the Kodiak bear has been exploited in this way. Bears need to be left alone, not confined to a pen on asphalt and wheeled out for events," PETA tweeted. "PETA urges anyone with an ounce of decency to keep wild animals out of their publicity stunts."

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Darren Minier, assistant director of animal care at the Oakland Zoo, also called the stunt exploitative and even dangerous.

"We don't see this as often as we used to a few decades ago," said Minier. "The main reason is because of how unsafe it is."

To be clear, Tag is what Minier called a "movie bear" -- born in captivity and trained for Hollywood. He's even apparently a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Tag has experience in front of cameras, but let's not forget he's a 1,000-pound bear.
"Truthfully with a bear that's scared, a hot wire is not really going to stop it," said Minier, referring to the electrically charged wire penning in the bear. "If the hot wire is strong enough to actually stop the bear, it's a danger (for people) to be around."

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On top of that, it gives people watching at home a bad impression of how bears should be handled.

"There's nothing natural about this," said Minier. "When people go to Tahoe or national parks and see a bear, we don't want them taking selfies with them. It's these types of publicity stunts that really erode people's abilities to understand how to interact safely with these animals."

"This animal's life is not what a bear's life should be," he continued. "This was no doubt a stunt, but I don't believe animals should be subjected to stunts. We believe that it is wrong for animals to be exploited in this way. It's not OK for the animal, it's not safe for the people and it's therefore not worth the airtime that it receives."

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