Pro Bono Effort Frees an Unhappy Black Bear from 16 Years in Captivity as a Roadside Attraction

News / August 15, 2015

In a Colorado animal sanctuary, a black bear named Ricki is enjoying her first summer with grass under her paws and no fencing between her and the sunshine, thanks to the pro bono work of our litigation team. In a case taken on behalf of the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund, the team succeeded in freeing Ricki from 16 years spent in a small pen set on a concrete pad, where she was a roadside attraction at Jim Mack’s Ice Cream in Hellum Township, Penn. She was fed dog food and corn, a far cry from the varied diet of fruits, vegetables, and fresh meat that black bears require for good health. Instead of unhappily pacing her barred enclosure, she is free to wander the sanctuary. And she is no longer alone. She interacts with other black bears who have also found refuge at the sanctuary.

In late December 2014, BakerHostetler Partner Carl Hittinger, assisted by Associate Brian Saunders, filed a lawsuit in the local Common Pleas Court seeking to strip the owner of the ice cream stand, James McDaniel Jr., of his ownership and rights to the bear and to allow for her to be moved to an accredited bear sanctuary. The complaint alleged that the conditions under which the black bear was being kept were inhumane, unsafe, and in violation of Pennsylvania state regulations prohibiting mistreatment of wildlife. The suit noted that McDaniel received numerous citations from the USDA for failing to provide regular veterinary care for Ricky and for failing to maintain safe fencing.

Almost immediately, the lawsuit gained national attention, with thousands of people signing a petition in support of the lawsuit, including British comedian Ricky Gervais, an animal rights supporter who also noted that he and the bear shared first names. Within days, negotiations began to settle the suit and relocate Ricki. By the end of January 2015, McDaniel relinquished the bear and, as a provision of the settlement, now is prohibited from keeping wild or exotic animals in cages.

In February, Ricki was liberated from her unhappy life and now is in the care of an accredited wildlife sanctuary, where she will live out the rest of her life in peace and freedom.

Video: See how Ricki is adjusting to her new home in Colorado