In Ohio, one is allowed to keep wild animals in their back yard. Very few people actually do, and Sam Mazzola is one who does. It's obvious Mazzola does where neighbors hear the howls and growls all day and night. However, questions arise as to whether Sam should? “I wrestle bears and tigers for a living, I’m not going to be afraid of a human.” Sam was also convicted with illegally carrying a firearm in 1997. He was spared by the judge who ordered him to seek counseling for his ‘anger’ issues. In 1990, Sam Mazzola went to prison for trafficking in cocaine and steroids according to court records. After a tussle with North Royalton police where one of his bears did over $1,000 in damage to a police cruiser, Sam moved his operation to a seventeen acre lot in Columbia Township which he shared with eight bears, assorted tigers and other exotic animals who live in and around a large barn and in cages. Mazzola’s notoriety goes back to 1986 when he kept his show bear ‘Caesar’, a seven hundred pound animal at the Creekside Condominiums in Brunswick Hills, Ohio.
Sam Mazzola made his money putting on exhibitions at flea markets, sportsman fairs and bars where he allowed people to wrestle his bears offering $1,000 for anyone who could pin one of his beasts via his World Animal Studios. There have been at least 27 known incidents where his bears have hurt individuals. He also ran two notorious “Animal Zone" pet shops in malls in North Olmsted and Elyria, Ohio.
After numerous complaints about selling sick and malnourished animals, management at Midway Mall in Elyria refused to renew his lease. A little while later, Great Northern Mall in North Olmsted refused to renew his lease there as well. Sam has been attempting to sell his Midway Mall operation on the internet. The Parma native says he got his love of animals from his mother. The problem with Sam Mazzola is while he loves his animals, he lacks the financial resources to care for them.
The USDA among his other critics say Sam should not be in business, whether selling pets nor exhibiting them. In a meeting between Sam Mazzola and Jed Mignano, Chief Humane Investigator with the Cleveland Animal Protective League, Mignano contends Sam was very angry and made several threats aimed at the inspector.
Perhaps the most stinging case against Sam Mazzola is the death of one of his ’caretakers’ recently at the paws of an enraged caged bear in Sam’s barn on Aug. 19. Twenty-four year-old Brent Kandra was mauled to death by one of Sam’s bears while he was attempting to feed it. According to Sam, “The food was already there. I mean the bear wasn’t even interested. He was interested in ‘playing’ with Brent. And when it was time for him (Brent) to leave, the bear didn’t want him to go and just grabbed him. This was his (Brent’s) choice.” In the autopsy report issued by the Cuyahoga County Coroners Office reported Brent died from “numerous sharp wounds and blunt injuries”, indicating those that could be received from an attack by a bear. According to Brent’s father, John Kandra, he had urged his son many times to quit working for Sam Mazzola, saying, “I really wish you wouldn’t work for him.” According to John, Brent felt ’shortchanged’ by Mazzola on paydays. Brent’s mother, Deirdre Herbert, and his father requested the bear be put to death - it now lays under a pile of dirt on Mazzola’s property. Brent had worked for Mazzola for six years.
Even with the death of Brent Kandra, Sam Mazzola plans no changes on his compound concerning safety, saying the mauling was an accident that could have happened to any of them. In a news video, Sam along with his caretakers could be seen playing with one of his bears. Mazzola exhibited little sorrow over the loss of Brent Kandra as he gave an interview with the press. Saying he would leave it up to the Kandra’s whether the bear should go on living or be euthanized. Sam says his methods are “up to code and up to specs.” In the interview with the press, he seemed detached from the reality of the situation.
Meanwhile neighbors are not pleased with Sam Mazzola’s animal menagerie on his Columbia Station property. With the howling of wolves and growls from the bears, Sam is thought of as the neighbor from hell. According to neighbor Tom Burrington, Sam’s animal farm is a pain in the neck, saying, “There are coyotes hollering at night, lions roaring at night, junkyard dogs barking all day.” According to Columbia Township trustee, Dale Rundle, one of the bears did indeed get away and ended up pinning a neighbor to the ground. When asked if the township was able to find ways to shut down Sam’s private zoo, the trustee said they had looked into it, and found there was nothing they could do. Mazzola does have up to date state permits and Ohio has no safety, cage or care requirements on private property. Sam’s lion and tigers do not require a permit under current Ohio law. Neighbor Margaret Dodge is hoping things will change and Mazzola will be required to get rid of the animals before something else happens - it was her husband who found himself pinned for twenty minutes by the wayward bear that got away from Mazzola. As it is, her husband had to be taken to the hospital because of the incident. She goes further to say, “have you ever listened to thirty wolves when one of them starts howling and the others join in? You grind your teeth and your hair falls out - he’s the neighbor from hell!” Neighbors around Mazzola’s property fear for the lives of their children if more of Sam’s animals make an escape. Columbia Township is surrounded by the more populous Greater Cleveland suburbs like Berea, Columbia Station, Olmsted Falls, Olmsted Township, Strongsville and Valley City. Mazolla’s property at 9978 North Marks Road is surrounded by suburban homes - and there are indeed some very deadly dangers whenever his animals escape.
PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals) has its eye on Sam Mazolla and his pets. The group feels Sam Mazolla has “left injured people and property damage in it’s wake.” PETA hopes Ohio revamps its laws and brings to an end the allowance of predator animals to roam the back yards of wild animal enthusiasts which if escaped presents a very real danger to people and property in the area. Even responsible private wild animal owners are in arms over Sam Mazzola’s operation because it casts a very bad shadow over them as well. This is not saying that everyone is displeased with Sam’s backyard animal collection. Jim Burnette who owns Burnette’s Farm & Educational Center in Olmsted Falls says Mazolla cried for three days when his dog Brandy died, further saying “His operation is clean. I know, because I’ve been there“. Steve Pistone, another business owner in Columbia Township believes Sam operates a legitimate and educational business, “You get to see wild animals up close - he loves those animals!”
Maybe Sam loves them, but according to patrons who viewed his World Animal Studio animal act at the IX Center during one of his exhibitions say he’s not afraid to whack them with baseball bats in getting them to perform. Sam at times is not sure of how to control his animals either, as witnessed by his panic-stricken call to 911 will attest when he watched Brent Kandra being mauled to death by the black bear he was trying to feed;
“Get him to the cage”
“What do you need - police, fire or ambulance?”
“What’s going on there, sir?”
“I had someone get bit.”
“By an animal!”
“What kind of animal?”
“We have exotic animals here. Man, I need someone here right f..king now man! I need somebody here from Strongsville. I need somebody here”
“Where are his bites on his body?”
On his arms and I think he’s got a collapsed lung. That‘s my fear.”
Sam Mazzola was understandably panicked. He had used a fire extinguisher to finally get the bear back in his cage.
However, it looks like Sam’s World Animal Studio is about to close - possibly even before Ohio laws on ownership of wild animals are in the process of change. Sam had filed for bankruptcy in March of this year and sheriffs deputies are now regularly seen outside his property. With his financial problems, Mazzola may soon be unable to pay his help - no matter how little their pay is. Since the caretakers may be part time, Sam most likely has not offered any health nor life insurance benefits for his ragtag workers - and I’m sure those workers are considering that the time has arrived to consider leaving the employ of World Animal Studio - Brent Kandra himself was in the very act of getting ready to call it quits with World Animal Studio when he accepted a sales position selling cell phones and accessories at Southpark Mall in Strongsville.
The nail in the coffin for Sam Mazzola’s World Animal Studio may be coming very soon. The president of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, has asked Ohio Governor Ted Strickland to issue an executive order to ban private ownership of dangerous animals. The new law will grandfather in those who currently own wild animals with one major exception - and that is to shut down Sam Mazzola immediately when the emergency order is signed. According to the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, Spokesperson Amada Wurth says the committee has the power to change the rules, indicating that the emergency measure could be enacted by the end of the year. Mazzola had previously lost his USDA license to exhibit his bears and other wild animals due to Federal violations. However for Brent Kandra, the closing down of Sam Mazzola’s animal compound will come a little too late.
Sam Mazzola has been given his walking papers - the new owner has given him until September 27th to remove his animals, or they will be removed for him. William Arroyo was the successful bidder on Sam Mazzola’s property back in March of this year and agreed to allow Sam to continue to occupy the property. One of the contingencies was Sam was to carry adequate insurance for his wild animals. Sam told the new owner that he indeed did have the proper insurance, but it was discovered that Mazzola did not carry the insurance that he promised. According to Arroyo’s lawyer, Brian Kraig, it’s doubtful whether Sam will be able to get insurance now, nor will he be able to pay the three months back rent that is due his client.
Meanwhile there will be a Columbia Township trusties meeting held on September 7th to ask that Sam’s animal operation be shut down. According to Brian Kraig, if the eight black bears, twelve wolves, two Bengal tigers, two white tigers, a lion and six dogs are not removed by then, the authorities along with animal handlers from zoo’s and other animal groups will move in immediately to remove the animals for him. According to the lawyer, every attempt will be made to place the animals in a zoo or other appropriate avenues.
OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) is also moving in on Sam Mazzola. Jule Hovi, area director for OSHA, based in Toledo says they have begun investigations into Sam’s operation and are focusing on issues of health and safety violations. Sam Mazzola could face further citations and penalties from OSHA. Lorain County Sheriff’s Office are also investigating Sam Mazzola. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is after Mazzola saying he let his BWC coverage lapse back in September 2005. If found that Sam Mazzola had been paying his employee’s “under the table”, he will be facing criminal charges. BWC said they would most likely pay for Brent Kendra’s medical and funeral costs, however, they will be going after Mazzola for reimbursement. As it is, Sam Mazzola owes Midway Mall $15,700 for unpaid rent and legal costs. As of May, Sam Mazzola is carrying over $340,000 in debt - and that figure continues to rise.