Bear Cub Bill Heads To Governor

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Forget traveling to Animal Kingdom in Orlando, the bear cub bill is headed to Governor Snyder's desk.

That means you could soon be able to hold and take pictures with bear cubs at certain facilities throughout the state.

The legislation would allow people to cozy up with bear cubs under 9 months old or weighing no more than 90 lbs. It applies only to about seven facilities that were already offering bear cub visits, so it's basically a bill to grandfather them in.

Some people love the idea, like Rae Bennett, a fourth grader in Lansing visiting Potter Park Zoo.

"I think they're cute, and they're really soft, and I think people could hold them," Bennett said.

It's the kid in all of us that drives business at Oswald's Bear Ranch in the Upper Peninsula, and it's the main motivation for getting the bear cub bill signed into law. The ranch was deemed illegal last summer after more than 15 years in the community.

"When you look at what this does for this business, it is a draw," the bill's sponsor Senator Tom Casperson (R - Marquette) said. "The fact that folks can come and pet young little cubs, it's a draw, and so we don't want to discourage that, we want to encourage it."

Michigan's Association of Zoos and Aquariums feels just the opposite.

"Bears can be very dangerous. These animals are wild animals," Potter Park Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Tara Harrison said. "They're not meant to sit on people's laps and to have their pictures taken. These animals can be unpredictable."

Harrison said bears also pose a health risk as they can carry rabies and potentially fatal parasites for humans. Plus, experts consider bears dangerous at three months, let alone nine.

"These bears are very capable of inflicting a lot of damage and a lot of harm," Harrison said. "No amount of training is going to take that away."

The owner of the ranch, Dean Oswald, said in all his years and thousand of visitors, the worst that's happened are a few scrapes. Oswald said this bill is vital to helping not just his business get back on track, but also all Michigan tourism.

"I think the whole state of Michigan benefits," Oswald said. "You have people from all over the world that come here because we have bears, and we have a nice place."

Not everyone wants to get their own paws on the cubs though.

"I'd rather play with dogs and cats," Potter Park Zoo visitor Stephanie Amadio said. "Not a bear cub, it's not for me."

Governor Snyder could be playing with a bear cub soon. Because he does support the bill and is expected to sign it, the Oswalds have offered to bring down a couple of cubs for the signing ceremony.

The Oswalds hope that happens in the next week or two so they can start strong during the spring and summer seasons.

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