COLUMBUS, Ohio – A bear that mauled to death a caretaker was euthanized Saturday at the request of the family of the victim, whose father said he had told his son to leave the job.
The bear attacked Brent Kandra, 24, when he opened its cage Thursday for a routine feeding at the home of a man who kept a menagerie of wolves, tigers and bears on the property southwest of Cleveland.
The owner, Sam Mazzola, who has drawn criticism from animal rights activists for letting people wrestle with one of his bears, had said Kandra's family would decide the bear's fate.
Kandra's father, John, said he and his ex-wife, Deirdre Herbert, needed the bear to die. He also said his son felt shortchanged by Mazzola when payday rolled around.
"It just seemed like Sam kind of took advantage of my son," Kandra's father said. "I told him a couple times, 'I really wish you wouldn't work for him.'"
Mazzola's lawyer didn't return a call seeking comment Saturday.
After the bear was put to death by a veterinarian, John Kandra recalled his son, a little blond boy who fished his way through childhood in the rivers of northeastern Ohio, baiting bullfrogs with a blade of grass and catching carp big enough to shame the tallest teller of fish tales.
"I can't think of when he wasn't involved with animals," Kandra said.
His son began fishing at age 4, reeling in fish after fish and begging to cast his rod just one more time. He tried to bring home his biggest catches, where he always had animals — a pet snake, a turtle or a dog.
After Kandra died, his father paged through mementos of his son's childhood, the fridge-worthy school assignments and other keepsakes a parent saves. He fixated on stories his son scribbled in elementary school: Brent catching a whale with a hook. Brent living among the bears in the woods.
"I figured by the time they were in their 30s and 40s they could go through it and see what they want to keep," Kandra's father said of his children. "He's not going to be able to do that."
Brent Kandra's penchant for critters led him to Mazzola's world of exotic animals, where neighbors say roars and howls resound. Kandra spent the end of his teenage years and his 20s tending to dogs and feeding bears.
Despite the problems he said he had with getting paid, Kandra thought it was better than selling cell phones at the mall, a job he started less than two months ago.
Mazzola owned four tigers, a lion, eight bears and 12 wolves, he said at a bankruptcy filing in May.
The USDA had revoked Mazzola's license to exhibit animals after animal rights activists campaigned for him to stop letting people wrestle with another one of his bears.
He had permits for nine bears for 2010, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The state requires permits for bears but doesn't regulate the ownership of nonnative animals like lions and tigers.
Kandra's death shows that Ohio needs immediate action to prohibit private ownership of wild animals, the Humane Society said.
"Ohio has been one of the outliers, putting both public safety and the welfare of the animals at risk," president Wayne Pacelle said in a statement.