Recall Candidate John Cox Is Being Investigated for Bringing a Bear to San Diego

The Republican recall hopeful’s beastly bid to paint himself as a tough guy has raised the eyebrows of animal activists and law enforcement

UPDATE: MAY 17, 2021 — John Cox’s “Meet the Beast” campaign—which has involved the Republican gubernatorial wannabe stumping alongside a 1,000-pound Kodiac bear named Tag in cities across the state—wasn’t a hit animal rights groups. Now it looks like the stunt may have run afoul of the law.

The San Diego Human Society’s law enforcement division has reportedly opened an investigation into Cox and his beastly antics. A city code relating to unusual animals says, “No person shall offer for sale, give away, bring into or maintain within an area coming within the jurisdiction of this ordinance, any lion, tiger, bear, monkey, wolf, cougar, ocelot, wildcat, skunk.”

Cox’s campaign issued a statement to area news stations, saying, “Every care was taken to ensure Tag’s comfort and safety with the approval of several government agencies. California needs beastly change and that may ruffle some feathers of left wing activists.”

MAY 5, 2021 — When businessman John Cox ran against Gavin Newsom in the 2018 Governor’s race, he blew $5.7 million of his own money only to lose pretty spectacularly with 38.1 percent of the vote. Now he’s at it again. In a bizarro publicity stunt in Sacramento Tuesday, the Republican recall hopeful dragged out a captive 1,000-pound Kodiak bear to stump for him. But that only made some of Cox’s fellow homo sapiens even less enthusiastic about his gubernatorial bid.

Tag the Bear was the featured performer at the rollout for Cox’s “Meet the Beast” campaign, in which Cox hopes to juxtapose himself as a political tough guy against Newsom. In an ad released to coincide with Tag’s campaign debut, a gravel-voiced narrator calls Newsom “beauty” and a parrot trills “pretty boy.”

As far as the Oakland Zoo’s assistant director of animal care, Darren Minier, is concerned, however, the only thing tough about the marketing ploy is how it harkens back to an era when people routinely mistreated animals for fun and profit—risking the welfare of both “beasts” and people.

“We don’t see this as often as we used to a few decades ago,” Minier tells ABC 7. “The main reason is because of how unsafe it is.”

Despite the fact that Tag is a “movie bear” born and raised in captivity, and a member of the Screen Actors Guild who lists a role in the 2018 film Action Point on his resume, he’s still a wild animal who had to be penned in with electrically charged wire to cavort for Cox.

“Truthfully with a bear that’s scared, a hot wire is not really going to stop it,” Minier warned the station. “If the hot wire is strong enough to actually stop the bear, it’s a danger [for people] to be around.”

PETA also raised its objections to Tag’s use as a political prop, tweeting, “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 urges anyone with an ounce of decency to keep wild animals out of their publicity stunts.”

Minier stresses that such displays tend to make people forget that nature knows what it’s doing, telling ABC 7, “There’s nothing natural about this. 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.”

And what, really, is the point of Cox’s “Beast” campaign?

As Fred Davis, the GOP strategist behind the ads, told CBS Sacramento, “Millions of people voted for something named John Cox but he was never a very, I don’t think, a very clearly defined John Cox, and so we’re going to define him a lot better.” Davis was also the brains behind the “demon sheep” ad Carly Fiorina aired when she (unsuccessfully) challenged California U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010.

While Davis may have been going for grabby, Minier points out that Cox’s gambit is more depressing than anything else.

“This animal’s life is not what a bear’s life should be,” he tells ABC 7. “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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