An animal rights group is suing the owner of Tag, a Kodiak bear who was featured at events for John Cox, a Republican running for governor.,

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

The furriest sideshow of the recall campaign is the center of a lawsuit.

Tag, a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear, was the centerpiece of a John Cox campaign event.Credit…Renee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press

Sept. 10, 2021Updated 8:47 a.m. ET

The campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom has been going well for the governor lately. Less so for Tag the bear.

“Animal rights people are suing us,” said Keith Bauer, the longtime trainer for the 1,000-pound Kodiak who became famous this year as part of a campaign stunt for John Cox, one of the four dozen or so candidates challenging Mr. Newsom. “It’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Cox, a San Diego Republican who lost to Mr. Newsom in a landslide in 2018, garnered attention this spring when he began making appearances with the bear to underscore his campaign theme that Mr. Newsom was a privileged “beauty” while Mr. Cox was a powerful “beast.”

Bryan Pease, a lawyer who leads the board of the Animal Protection and Rescue League in San Diego, said the nonprofit group sued to enjoin Mr. Cox and the bear’s owner from bringing Tag back to San Diego.

The complaint, filed in San Diego Superior Court in May, notes that, other than in the zoo, municipal code bans bears and other wild animals from the city. It also alleges that drugs and electrical wires were used to keep the bear docile during appearances, citing an email from Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife, the Kern County supplier of show business animals that owns the bear and rents him for events and commercials.

“They said Tag was drugged because he was so nice at personal appearances,” said Mr. Bauer, who was not named in the suit, which he called “groundless.”

“Tag is just nice,” he added. “What do you want me to do? Pinch him in the butt to make him mean?”

A spokesperson for Mr. Cox’s campaign blamed “liberal activists playing politics through the courts” for the lawsuit and denied that the bear was mistreated.

Mr. Pease said his animal rights group was “an equal opportunity assailant,” noting that it recently sent out a mass email condemning Representative Juan Vargas, a San Diego Democrat, for holding a fund-raiser at the Del Mar racetrack.

In any case, Tag’s trainer said, he and the bear have had little luck monetizing their campaign close-up.

“We’ve gotten a couple of jobs,” Mr. Bauer said, taking a break on Thursday from a job in Pittsburgh, where he was working with a trained squirrel named Nut Nut.

“But it hasn’t changed anything.”