January 16, 2013 | Vol. 25 Edition 3

Hate mail aimed at animal control officer

Outside animal rescuers take aim after sick cub euthanized

When you take one Facebook posting on a stray bear cub and add one video of its capture, it equals an avalanche of vicious emails for Mike Lindquist, animal control officer in Valdez.

Photo courtesy Robert Stumpf / Facebook
The orphaned bear cub found abandoned outside a Homestead Rd. residence in Valdez.

The saga began Saturday afternoon, January 5, when Valdez man Robert Stumpf posted a Facebook video on his profile that he took when Lindquist captured a small black bear cub that Stumpf had spotted on his back porch. The update immediately caught the attention of numerous would-be rescuers from across the United States and Canada, all expressing a desire to help rehabilitate or rehome the cub.

Unfortunately for Lindquist, who had been directed by his immediate supervisor, Valdez Police Chief Bill Comer, to euthanize the starving cub, the would-be do-gooders turned vicious. The Valdez animal shelter was the target of a few hysterical phone calls and at least a dozen less-than-complimentary emails after it was learned the black bear cub had been euthanized.

“The poor little guy was scared, cold and hungry and your response was to cause more pain then kill him. Shame on you,” said one email. “You should not have any position working for the welfare of animals.”

The calls and emails also came into city hall, prompting Sheri Pierce, the city’s clerk and public information officer to issue a press release in an attempt to quiet statements that were misinformed.

“…since this story went viral on Facebook, our animal control officer is suffering unfair attacks by the public for his role in this story,” Pierce said.

Many of the writers and callers assumed city officials have authority over wildlife matters within the city limits; actually, the Dept. of Fish and Game has exclusive jurisdiction over wildlife policy issues. In other words, city officials in Valdez do not have the authority to keep, rehabilitate, relocate or treat wildlife such as bears.

“On a wild animal, that’s a State of Alaska call,” Comer said. “We’re taking a lot of heat for the state.”

Unfortunately for the bear cub, current state policy dictates that all black bears that are injured, sick or determined to be a public threat – such as bears that are habituated to eating garbage – are to be dispatched.

The cub in question was emaciated and did not respond to eat or drink water it was provided according to Pierce. It is also unknown where its mother was, why the cub was not hibernating in a den, or how long it had been out on its own in the dead of winter.

“It’s absolutely a bad deal,” Comer said of the cub’s demise.

Comer, whose police department in Valdez often handles wildlife calls on behalf of the state, said a number of black bear sows had been hit by cars in late summer and early fall of 2012. Some had cubs.

“We’ve been dealing with cubs all fall,” Comer said.

For his part, Stumpf was shocked that the posting caused such an uproar.

“Mike was very professional,” Stumpf said, “In no way did I think he mishandled it.”

Stumpf said he posted the video hoping to share a unique experience with friends on Facebook. After all, it’s not every day you find a bear cub on your porch in the middle of January.

“I thought, ‘that’s pretty cool’,” he said. “and I thought I’d share that.”

In no way did he anticipate the barrage of outrage that resulted when it came to light the cub had been euthanized. Nor was he surprised when he learned the cub had been dispatched.

“The fact is, I mean, I watched that bear for at least an hour,” he said. “He was not healthy, he was not well.”

He knew the cub was near death. It had pawed at dog food left on Stumpf’s back porch, but did not eat.

“He couldn’t eat it,” Stumpf said. “He looked really sick.”

In past years, Valdez officials have managed to obtain state permission to relocate two different black bear cubs to a wildlife sanctuary in Texas.

“Once taken into custody, the relocation of any wild animal requires that the city secure permission from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, a process that can take many weeks,” the city said in its press release. “In this instance, due to the health of the bear, relocation was not recommended by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.”

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