Wishing for an end to bear hunting
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1996:
In Silver City, New Mexico, Juliette Harris, age 7, on
May 13 voluntarily began receiving a $1,500 series of painful postexposure
rabies shots, to spare the life of the eight-pound bear cub
she found on May 5. The mother might have abandoned the cub due
to a drought that made food scarce, or might have been killed by a
poacher. Whatever the case, Harris lugged him home despite having
been bitten on the finger, and saw to it that he was delivered to
Western New Mexico University biology professor Dennis Miller, a
member of Gila Wildlife Rescue.
“I just didn’t want that cute baby bear to die,” Harris said.
“He’s so small.
In Howie-In-The-Hills, Florida, Stuart McMillan, 14, on
May 15 climbed a 32-foot extension ladder, hoping to retrieve his
beloved cat from the top of a 36-foot power pole. He touched a
7,600-volt wire and either was electrocuted or killed on impact when
he fell headfirst to the ground.
As Harris suffered for an animal, and McMillan died for an
animal, Erik Ness, 17, of White Bear Lake Township, Minnesota,
prowled Alaska with his father, trying to kill a Kodiak bear––as the
guest of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an umbrella with 85 regional
affiliates whose purpose is fulfilling the last requests of dying children,
or children who have potentially terminal conditions.
A national and even international furor over the Make-A
Wish involvement began quietly. While Jessica Glatzer of the Fund
for Animals was privately corresponding with the Make-A-Wish
chapter in Minnesota as early as February 15, and Fund national
director Heidi Prescott had contacted the Make-A-Wish head office
in Phoenix by March 4, the first appeal for public protest was apparently
posted to the AR-News e-mail list on March 19 by D’Arcy
Kemnitz, former executive director of the Alliance for Animals,
now a first-year law student in Minneapolis.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation,” she wrote, “after protracted
dialogue with the Animal Rights Coalition,” the leading
Minnesota animal rights group, “has granted the wish of a
terminally ill 17-year-old with a brain tumor to kill a Kodiak
bear in Alaska. After receiving calls from animal protectionists,
the Make-A-Wish Foundation offered to give the young
man elaborate camera equipment to shoot the bear on film.
However, his parents would not accept the alternative.”
Kemnitz asked activists to explain to Make-A-Wish
“that their standard to provide any wish that is legal is not
acceptable. After all, juvenile prostitution is legal in some
countries. Although Make-A-Wish should be applauded for
its fantastic work for terminally ill children, the foundation
should not allow itself to be responsible for terminating the
life of a bear for sport.”
Twelve hours later, Bill Dollinger of Friends of
Animals advised, “The fax number for Make-A-Wish in
Minnesota is 612-571-2592. I think they are really afraid of
any publicity on this one.”
The April edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE h a d
already gone to press, but we faxed an inquiry to Make-AWish,
suggesting that there would be publicity in our May
edition if the bear-killing went ahead. Make-A-Wish did not
respond. The only update to reach us before the May deadline
was an April 8 posting to the AR-Views e-mail opinion
forum by Cathy Goeggel of Animal Rights Hawaii:
“I just found a listing in the Black’s Wing & Clay
1996 Shotgunner’s Handbook, for the Pheasant Festival
U.S.A., to be held in Mitchell, South Dakota, November 2-
3, to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”
The issue was no longer just one misguided decision.
Now we were looking at a probable investigative feature.
Instead of doing the short item for May that we’d originally
anticipated, we booked Make-A-Wish for the top of
page one in June.
By the time this edition was in assembly, we had
Make-A-Wish national president James Gordon’s statement:
“Our wishes are limited,” Gordon said, “only by
the child’s imagination, and often reflect the activities and
way of life to which the child is accustomed. The wish of a
Minnesota boy to hunt Kodiak bear in Alaska has been
approved by the board of directors of our Minnesota chapter.
It is the sincere wish of the youngster and reflects a lifelong
involvement in family fishing and hunting trips.”
But Steve Rubenstein of the San Francisco
Chronicle beat us to it. Apparently picking up the story from
a short item in Bunny Hugger’s Gazette, Rubenstein reported
the opposition of the Fund and In Defense of Animals to the
bear-killing––and the rift over it within Make-A-Wish.
“Debbie Novak, president of the Greater Bay Area
chapter of Make-A-Wish, said she would not have granted
the Minnesota teen’s wish,” Rubenstein wrote, “but
explained that each chapter acts independently. ‘We would
not do anything involving guns or get involved with wishes
that are hot public issues,’ said Novak. She said she had
been fielding calls all week from concerned Make-A-Wish
donors, and hoped that the controversy would not take a toll
By mid-day, John Grandy of the Humane Society
of the U.S. had asked Make-A-Wish to cancel the bear hunt
and to establish guidelines barring fulfillment of any wish that
could result in cruelty to animals. Ark Trust simultaneously
offered Ness the chance to spend a day in Idaho with actor
Pierce Brosnan on the set of a new James Bond film.
But Ness and his father, Brock Ness, were reportedly
already in Alaska, with 20 days to bag a Kodiac bear
before the end of the spring bear season, using a permit
obtained by Safari Club International from a German hunter.
SCI also provided airfare, a rifle, binoculars, hunting clothing,
and the services of an outfitter and a taxidermist.
“Make-A-Wish will never be able to sustain the
damage this will do to their image, especially in Hollywood,”
said Ark Trust president Gretchen Wyler, a longtime MakeA-Wish
supporter. “They will rue the day they ever let Safari
Club International be a partner. It’s sad enough that this
young man is going to die. It compounds the sadness that he
wants something else to die.”
Steve Wells of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance pointed
out that several bears might actually be killed. “Sows,” he
explained, “which are almost impossible to tell from males,
come out of their dens before their cubs. When they are shot,
the cubs are orphaned. Spring bear hunting is banned in
many states,” he pointed out, because of the risk to cubs,
“but in Alaska it remains legal and the adverse impacts are
not being addressed.”
Inspired, cartoonist Steve Benson of the A r i z o n a
Republic depicted Ness and a potbellied representative of the
“Make a Death Wish Foundation” standing over a dying
mama bear, whose last wish is “to make sure my cubs are
taken care of.” Two bewildered cubs sniff her pooling blood.
Meanwhile, on May 13, the 25-member national
Make-A-Wish board “resoundingly” voted by conference call
to stand behind the bear-killing, board member Douglas
Elmets told media.
“We may suffer some retribution from those in the
animal rights community, but we feel we have a commitment
to this child, and we are going to stick by it,” Elmets said.
The Gun Owners Action League, United Sportsmen
of Minnesota, and Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance backed
Make-A-Wish with a May 16 demonstration at the Make-AWish
But by then the truth was out: Ness wasn’t dying.
He wasn’t even ill. His mother, Diane Ness, spoke to a St.
Paul Pioneer Press reporter to express her objections to coverage
using terms such as “dying wish” and “terminally ill.”
“It’s not like we are propping him up against a tree
with a gun in his hand,” Diane Ness said. “As of today, Erik
is cancer-free,” according to recent tests.
While Erik Ness did have a brain tumor removed
last fall, he was well enough to go bow hunting in Montana
two days later. Later in the fall, he killed a mule deer with
his bow. He is scheduled to graduate from high school on
schedule this month, and plans to celebrate with a wild game
dinner reception before going away to college to study
What was dying was public support for Make-AWish,
which purports to have granted about 38,000 wishes to
children over the years.
“We are going to sink if they go through with this,”
Danielle LaMarre of the Los Angeles Make-A-Wish chapter
lamented. “We would never have granted this wish because it
involves the use of weapons. We are being inundated with
calls from donors and celebrities saying they are pulling out.”
Gilles Whittell of the Los Angeles bureau of T h e
London Times reported that, “Some people within the charity
have accused colleagues of bowing to pressure from the
National Rifle Association.”
One disgruntled insider posted a complete mailing
list of Make-A-Wish branch offices to several sites on the
Internet, for the use of protesters.
Even in British Columbia, where bear hunting is
big business, Make-A-Wish branch president Susan Phillips
tried to distance her group from the approach of the
Minnesota chapter and U.S. headquarters. “Our policy has
been not to grant wishes that incude homes, motorized vehicles,
or hunting trips,” she said. “As such, this wish would
not have been granted by our chapter.”
Said Robb Lucy of Make-A-Wish Canada’s national
headquarters, “We will be recommending to all of our chapters
that they adopt a similar policy to that of British
Because most Make-A-Wish gifts to children are
not publicized, there is no way to verify the frequency with
which the organization sends children to hunt, but upstate
New York activist Pat Fish on May 17 posted to AR-News
accounts of how it donated a private “2.5-acre pond stocked
with bass, crappie, and channel catfish” to “Matt, a 14-yearold
Kansan with bone cancer,” and sent Joseph Gill, 16, of
Parkton, Maryland, to fish with three Bassmaster professionals
during practice for a fishing tournament. A recovering
Hodgkin’s disease victim, Gill hopes to become a pro tournament
As to Juliette Harris, Lawrence Carter of Sangre de
Cristo Animal Protection “is in the process of establishing a
fund to be split between the child’s medical bill and the rehabilitation
costs for the cub,” he said as ANIMAL PEOPLE
went to press. “More info will be forthcoming as we work
out the logistics.”
Carter, as the 1972 United Cerebral Palsy poster
boy, knows something about being a desperately ill child.
When he was Erik Ness’ age, he became a vegetarian.
ANIMAL PEOPLE child Wolf Clifton had a brain
tumor removed in May 1992. His one wish, recited as he
slipped under anesthesia before the surgery, was to “see birds
on a beach.”
[Make-A-Wish national headquarters may be con –
tacted at 100 West Clarendon, Suite 2200, Phoenix, AZ
85013-3518; fax 602-279-0855.]