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Colorado sanctuary files lawsuit to overturn rule keeping ‘Meatball’ out

Meatball cools off in a water tub at his temporary encloure in Alpine, Calif.
(Lions, Tigers & Bear animal sanctuary)

A wildlife sanctuary in Colorado that was blocked by state officials there from taking in the Glendale bear known as Meatball filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to overturn a regulation it claims is being invoked at the expense of the beloved 400-pound bruin getting the best possible home.

Colorado wildlife officials have said a state regulation prohibits wild animals such as Meatball from being kept at sanctuaries. Their counterparts in California agree, saying there are no plans to transport the bear to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, which filed the lawsuit in Denver.

Operators of the sanctuary have been adamant that the Colorado regulation should be revoked, and that their facility is best equipped to accommodate the bear.

According to the lawsuit, the problem with the regulation is that it goes against the definition of “sanctuary” in Colorado law as being a place of refuge that “provides care for abused, neglected, unwanted, impounded, abandoned, orphaned, or displaced wildlife for their lifetime.”


However, the regulation tacked onto the law that governs parks and wildlife states no animal “taken from the wild shall be possessed by any sanctuary.”

“It’s just a confusing situation and we’d like some clarification,” said Chris Kamper, the sanctuary’s attorney.

Meatball is currently living in a 15-by-20 foot cage at the Lions, Tigers & Bears rescue facility in San Diego County, where new, permanent digs for him are being planned.

Meatball was tranquilized and captured twice earlier this year after foraging for food in neighborhood trash cans and taking a dip in a pool in the foothills above Glendale. Each time he was transported to locations deep inside Angeles National Forest, but each time he returned, prompting plans to capture him again and place him permanently in a wildlife refuge.


But plans to transfer him from Lions, Tigers & Bears in Alpine to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado were sidelined when fish and game officials there invoked the regulation.

In its lawsuit, the Wild Animal Sanctuary — which houses former wild animals — wants a judge in Colorado’s 2nd Judicial District Court to block the state from enforcing their rule prohibiting sanctuaries from housing wildlife.

Kamper said this will be the first time for the issue to get a court hearing.

Fish and game officials in California and Colorado declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary also launched a campaign encouraging the public to flood decision-makers in Colorado with letters, emails and calls asking for the regulation to be lifted on behalf of Meatball and other animals that may themselves be in this situation.

John Singletary, chairman of the 11-member Colorado Wildlife and Parks Commission — which has the power to change the rule — said Tuesday that he’s received more than 180 emails about Meatball.

And that could be just the beginning of it, according to Pat Craig, executive director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary.

“He’s only seen what Facebook has done,” Craig said, adding that they have yet to send out thousands of letters to supporters.


The fear among state regulators is that changing the rule won’t fix the real problem: people feeding wild animals. When people leave out food for animals, that’s when they become pests. The solution shouldn’t be to take them out of the wild, Singletary said.

“You can say it’s a good sanctuary and all that, but it’s not where the bear came from,” he said.

As the battle over Meatball heats up in Colorado, contingencies to make his California residency permanent are already underway. Lions, Tigers & Bears launched a major fundraising effort Monday to construct an open-air facility for the bear.

And on Tuesday, the California Department of Fish and Game, which has jurisdiction over Meatball, announced that it did not intend to transport the bear to Colorado, “out of respect for Colorado law.”

The agency added that the search for a permanent home for Meatball “may take some time.”


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