Action needed – New zoo proposed for Kearney, Ontario


On May 31st, representatives of Zoocheck, Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Bear With Us and others spoke to the Town of Kearney Council against them allowing a recently proposed animal attraction into their town.

On January 25, 2019, a proposal for a new roadside animal attraction (called Wild Connections), which would house bears, cheetahs, porcupines and skunks, was presented to the Town of Kearney Council (a small community north of Huntsville, Ontario). An application for a zoning amendment is also being sought for the property the facility would be located on.

The proponent of the project, Ruth LaBarge has a long history of training bears for film, television and commercial activities. The name of her “animal rental” company is Bear With Us, the same name as the long-established and respected bear rescue, rehabilitation and education center operated by Mike McIntosh, located just a short distance from Kearney.

For 14 years Ms. LaBarge also conducted presentations at the privately-operated Discovery Wildlife Park in Alberta. While at the facility, she allowed zoo visitors to enter the brown bear enclosure to have their photos taken with an adult bear sitting or standing behind them separated by only a few strands of electrified wire. The wire is a psychological barrier and not a physical barrier and could not contain a bear that is motivated to go through it. Ms. LaBarge also allowed visitors, both young and old, to lean over the wire to have their face licked by an adult brown bear, something no professional zoos or sanctuaries would ever allow. See

kissing bear

After leaving Alberta, Ms. LaBarge moved to the privately-operated and unaccredited Papanack Park Zoo near Ottawa (see, and now she is wanting to establish herself in Kearney.

Ms. LaBarge’s proposal also indicates that she intends to bring to her facility two cheetahs owned by Carol Plato and her partner. Ms. Plato brought the cats to Ontario after the BC government denied, on numerous occasions, permission to keep the cats in BC. A 37 page BC Environmental Appeal Board decision report from March 2019 cites a broad range of concerns that led to the multiple permit denials, including the fact that the cheetahs had been illegally kept in the province for 14 months and one of the cats had escaped on at least one occasion.

The Wild Connections proposal presented to Kearney Town Council provides very little information about the facility, how it would be operated, as well as other relevant information.

There are many reasons why the Town of Kearney might consider not allowing the Wild Connections proposal:

– Public attitudes about wildlife in captivity have changed in recent years. Allowing a roadside animal attraction in the Town of Kearney may negatively impact the Town’s reputation as a gateway to Algonquin Park and other natural areas.

– The suggestion that the facility will generate tourist dollars for the community is not substantiated. There is the possibility a roadside animal attraction may deter tourists from coming to Kearney.

-The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals do not inspect roadside animal attractions for public safety or animal welfare.

-There is no meaningful regulation of roadside animal attractions in Ontario, so there are no public safety and animal welfare standards.

-The Town of Kearney would be saddled with the responsibility for providing oversight, accountability and for ensuring the facility’s animal containment and all management practices pose no risk to public safety, and would have to absorb the costs of doing so.

-The Town of Kearney would face liability issues if someone was injured or killed while at the facility or in the event of animal escapes.

-In the past at other facilities, the proponent has conducted shows and sessions to the public, including allowing members of the public to have their photos taken in close proximity to adult bears and having their faces “kissed” by adult bears, an activity that many experts call alarming and risky.

-Ms. LaBarge intends to continue with her film, television and commercial activities presumably under the name Bear With Us, a confusing situation because a longstanding member of the region and a renowned bear rescue and rehabilitation center called Bear With Us is located just a short distance from the Town of Kearney.

-It can be extremely difficult and costly for local governments to address problems in roadside animal attractions and it can take many years of municipal action, including lengthy litigations, to deal with them when they become problematic.

-The Town of Kearney has no appropriate zoning designation for a zoo.


If you would like to voice your opinion on the Wild Connections proposal, please send a polite email to Kearney Town Council urging them not to approve a zoning bylaw change for Wild Connections and not to allow any kind of roadside animal attraction in their town.

Email the Town of Kearney Mayor and Members of Council, c/o Town Clerk