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      Animal advocates bear down on lawmakers

      Animal rights advocates are trying to gather support against a bill that would allow the public to touch and pose with bear cubs in Michigan.

      Animal rights advocates are trying to gather support against a bill that would allow the public to touch and pose with bear cubs in Michigan.

      The Michigan Senate approved Senate Bill 48 earlier this month. The Michigan House could start discussing the bill Thursday. The bill would allow people to touch and pose for photos with bear cubs under 9 months old or weighing no more than 90 pounds.

      The Michigan Humane Society is trying to gather support against the bear bill. The group sent out emails this week trying to get people to contact their representatives against the bill. The Humane Society believes the bill allows people to profit from the exploitation of bears and also presents a danger to children and families. The group says while the bear cubs are not fully grown, they are strong and can cause serious damage with their claws.

      Officials with some Michigan zoos also believe the bear bill will pose a danger. All of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited institutions in Michigan; Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, Children??s Zoo at Celebration Square in Saginaw, Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids and Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, met last week and expressed strong opposition to Senate Bill 48.

      ??We are deeply concerned that the legislature would consider any bill that puts animals and people in serious jeopardy,?? said Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan. ??Any reasonable person would be concerned that bears, at whatever age and size, are dangerous. It??s common sense to vote against this bill.????Little bears grow up to be big bears,?? said President and CEO of the Children??s Zoo at Celebration Square, Nancy Parker. ??If bears have become used to people, they can become an even greater hazard to the public and to law enforcement officials.????Additionally,?? said Dr. Dalen Agnew, Pathologist at the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at Michigan State University, ??risks of exposure to salmonella or leptospirosis are increased through close contact with bear cubs and can be especially serious in young children and the elderly.????From a public health and safety perspective, I would advise people to avoid contact with bears entirely,?? said Dr. Tara Harrison, Veterinarian at Potter Park Zoo. ??We hope that members of the Michigan legislature listen to the experts and vote against SB 48,?? added Sherrie Graham, Director of Potter Park Zoo.??Our message is that we should respect wildlife, which means that if you see a bear outside of the zoo, you should stay away from it and appreciate it from a safe distance,?? added Diane Thompson, President and CEO of Binder Park Zoo.

      In December, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation because it also would have allowed more facilities to acquire and keep large carnivores. But he said he supported a provision pertaining to bear cubs.

      The Oswald's Bear Ranch in Newberry, which takes in orphaned cubs, had to stop letting visitors pose for photos while feeding black bear cubs last year after being told it was illegal.

      Dean Oswald wrote a letter to Governor Snyder in support of the bear bill. A portion of that letter states:

      "Most everyone who visits Oswald's Bear Ranch leaves with greater respect for bear and a greater appreciation for wildlife, and that is what I believe I was put on this earth to provide.

      For more than 15 years, we have allowed families from all over the world to have their picture taken with bear cubs. We have a permit to hold wildlife from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and are licensed as a class C licensee by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the federal Animal Welfare Act. It was our understanding that we could allow limited contact with bear cubs by allowing people who want to take photos with small cubs to do so. However, last summer we were informed that it was illegal under state law, so we immediately suspended that activity to the great disappointment of thousands of visitors through the summer season.

      Since then, I have worked with Senator Casperson on amendments to the law to allow families to have their picture taken with a bear cub under 36 weeks of age, and I have worked with Senator Hune on my operation becoming Zoological Association of America (ZAA) accredited. The ZAA specializes in small, private businesses like mine to provide standards for animal care and handling."

      We would like to know your opinion on Senate Bill 48. Do you think people should be allowed to touch and pose for pictures with bear cubs? Vote in the poll below and leave your comments on this issue.