Photo courtesy of ABC7 News

California is one of the leading states in the nation when it comes to animal welfare. So it was with great disappointment that we learned gubernatorial candidate John Cox is exploiting a bear for use as a prop during his campaign stops around the state.

According to a press release on his website, State Senator Ben Hueso, author of the Circus Cruelty Prevention Act of 2019, wrote “I was disappointed and appalled to see gubernatorial hopeful John Cox parade a live bear to his press conference in Sacramento today. Two years ago, SB 313 was signed into law and bans the use of wild animals in circuses. While the letter of the law pertained to circuses, the spirit of the law protected animals, such as Kodiak bears, from being used in events as props, such as Mr. Cox’s publicity stunt.

Senator Hueso continued, “The display of an awe-inspiring bear is a shameful, distasteful trick to bring attention to a candidate, and it is unrepresentative of a state that values humane treatment of animals and a civil discourse. An innocent wild animal shouldn’t have to suffer harassment and confinement…”

Using wild animals as props – in politics and entertainment –unfortunately has a long history. Tigers, bears, and even elephants were exploited by politicians hoping to project an image of “manliness.” These animals were kept in terrible conditions and were summarily discarded when no longer “of use.”

But Californians evolved and worked to enact groundbreaking laws to protect animals. Sadly, these laws don’t go far enough and the result is a politician who’s able to drag a beautiful bear around the state for photo ops.

To John Cox and his campaign, the bear is simply a prop meant to underscore his claim of “beastliness,” in defeating his opponent. He’s launched a $5 million ad campaign featuring this captive bear.

John Cox defended his exploitation of the bear by unknowingly underscoring exactly why it’s so inhumane to use them as props. He claimed the bear is tame, well taken care of, and would die in the wild. While that may be true, it’s precisely because this animal was taken from his mother as a cub and raised in captivity for entertainment that he would be unable to survive on his own.

Darren Minier, assistant director of animal care at the Oakland Zoo, also pointed out how these stunts can be dangerous.

Minier told ABC7 News, “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.”

It also gives the false impression that it’s okay to get close to bears. “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.”

And when these stunts do go wrong and people get hurt, or even killed, it’s the animal who pays the price.

We hope John Cox and his campaign staffers will recognize that our state is better than the cheap exploitation of animals more akin to 1921 than 2021 and rethink their use of this magnificent creature.

To voice your concern, contact your local legislator or John Cox’s campaign directly at