Oswald’s Bear Ranch No Longer Legally Permitted to Offer Cub Petting Until 2026

Published by Katherine Sullivan.

Update: Yesterday, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was notified that because of critical noncompliance with the federal Animal Welfare Act and a recent civil penalty, Oswald’s Bear Ranch is no longer legally permitted under the state’s Large Carnivore Act to offer cub petting until at least 2026. PETA had feared that the state might not get word of the federal penalty, and it can now take action against the facility if necessary.

Oswald’s was ordered to pay the $2,400 civil penalty last month to settle a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) complaint stemming from a tip from PETA that the roadside zoo’s owners had lied about the circumstances surrounding the death of a bear cub. Two cubs escaped during a power outage that began and ended on April 12, 2019. One was recovered the same day, but the other—named Sophie—was killed three days later after she was found ripping screens off a neighbor’s windows. One of the roadside zoo’s owners, Dean Oswald, lied to USDA officials by claiming that the power outage had begun late on April 13 or 14 and lasted through the morning of April 15—the day Sophie was found—stating that that was when the bears had escaped.

PETA notes that Oswald’s regularly misleads the public by marketing itself as a rescue facility even though it has bred 13 cubs in the past 23 years and purchased or acquired 77 others from shady dealers, including at least a dozen in the past three years alone, for use in photo ops. Once the bears become too big to be used for photos, Oswald’s moves them to enclosures where they have been seen pacing and swaying their heads back and forth in evident psychological distress.

“Roadside zoos like this are in business to exploit vulnerable bear cubs, and the public should avoid them like the plague. PETA is urging officials to crack down on Oswald’s Bear Ranch if it attempts to offer bear photo ops or cub petting in violation of state law.”

—Brittany Peet, PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement

Originally published on December 9, 2021:

After PETA uncovered that Oswald’s Bear Ranch lied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about the circumstances surrounding a young bear’s shooting death, the agency filed a formal complaint against the notorious exhibitor. Now, Oswald’s has entered into a consent decision with the USDA and been ordered to pay a $2,400 penalty.

Originally published on October 13, 2021:

Oswald’s Bear Ranch owner Dean Oswald seemingly tried to conceal that a bear in his custody had run loose for days, resulting in the animal’s violent death. Now, after PETA uncovered Oswald’s lies from public records and urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate this and other matters, we’ve learned that the agency just filed a formal complaint—which could result in fines and/or a license suspension or revocation—against the roadside zoo over the incident. The agency noted that Oswald had provided false information about the escape (which also involved another cub), writing in the complaint that he had “not shown good faith.”

“The bears suffer greatly at Dean Oswald’s dishonest, dysfunctional operation, and the government is doing something about it,” said PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet in a statement.

The cubs escaped from Oswald’s Bear Ranch during a power outage on April 12, 2019. One was quickly recovered, but the other—named Sophie—was shot and killed when she was found three days later ripping screen windows off a neighbor’s home and climbing onto his car. Oswald lied to USDA officials regarding when the bears had escaped and how long they had been at large, claiming that the power outage had lasted until April 15, the day that Sophie was found. The agency later determined that the outage had actually ended on April 12.

Oswald’s Bear Ranch also regularly misleads the public by marketing itself as a “rescue” facility, despite having bred 13 cubs in the past 25 years and purchased or acquired 77 more from dealers, including at least a dozen bears in the past three years alone, to exploit for entertainment.

The USDA’s formal complaint alleges, too, that Oswald’s Bear Ranch violated the federal Animal Welfare Act by feeding bears unhealthy and inappropriate food, including “restaurant scraps, donated meat, produce and dog food.” PETA had previously alerted the agency to this issue as well.

“PETA urges the USDA to hold exhibitors’ feet to the fire and asks the public to do its part by avoiding facilities that exploit baby animals for profit,” Peet said.

Sophie Deserved Better

Before Sophie’s premature death, PETA obtained damning video footage showing her and two other bears—Ashley and Sassy—pacing and crying out:

In nature, bear cubs spend their time playing, exploring, and socializing with one another and their mother. But at Oswald’s Bear Ranch, cubs are used for photo ops, which are highly disruptive and can result in long-term psychological stress. When not being used as props, these juvenile bears are confined to concrete-floored enclosures, which can be especially damaging to their fragile bones and muscles and can lead to painful and debilitating joint problems as they age.

Oswald’s Bear Ranch Is a Death Trap—Take Action Now!

No animals should ever be confined to cramped cages and forced to suffer just so that humans can take photos with them (or for any other reason). Don’t let Oswald’s Bear Ranch continue to get away with this exploitation—click below to urge the roadside zoo to send the remaining bears to accredited sanctuaries before more of them die:

Get PETA Updates

Stay up to date on the latest vegan trends and get breaking animal rights news delivered straight to your inbox!

By submitting this form, you are agreeing to our collection, storage, use, and disclosure of your personal info in accordance with our privacy policy as well as to receiving e-mails from us.

 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind