By ANGIE SCHMITT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
HE’S A SPECIMEN OF good breeding, 500 pounds with thick, black fur. But “Sadie” didn’t come to the fair for a chance at a blue ribbon.
The 7-foot-tall black bear is here to entertain guests at the Great American Frontier Show, held four times daily, free, on the southwest corner of the fairgrounds.
Sadie and another black bear, a pair of timber wolves and two mountain lions travel 10 months per year with the show that aims at environmental education.
Like 95 percent of the show’s animals, Sadie came to the show through an animal rescue organization, said frontier show director Michael Sandlofer. She was just a cub when her mother was shot, he tells audience members.
“We’re one of the few families that work with these animals with no restraints and no muzzles,” said Sandlofer, whose wife, Sharon, and 13-year-old daughter, Benna, join him on the road. Sharon Sandlofer is an animal trainer. Benna is a trick rider in their “Animals that Built America” show, one of two they offer daily.
The traveling exhibition has been in the family for three generations, said Michael Sandlofer. With seven other employees and their animals, they travel the country in two tractor-trailers and two full-size trucks.
“In the winter we go down south, and in the summer we head up north,” said Benna Sandlofer.
Policy of respect
Her dad said the entire crew is cautious with their wild road companions. But there has been little backlash from the animals because of the family’s policy of respect, he said.
“If they don’t want to do something, that’s OK with us,” he said. “She [Sadie] doesn’t get reprimanded. She doesn’t get punished. I’m letting her be who she is. I’m not changing her personality.”
During their 1 p.m. “Wild Animals of North America” show, timber wolf Lakota preferred running the show’s 40-foot, barred arena, to climbing on the trick equipment as she was encouraged.
Animals are rewarded with scraps of meat for tricks such as jumping between raised platforms or, as in Sadie’s case, waving goodbye.
The animals are encouraged to do what comes naturally to them in the performances. The show’s mountain lions climb a series of small metal steps that set high above the Sandlofers’ heads. The setting simulates their natural environment in mountains and cliffs.
“Anytime they get the high ground, whatever’s below them just became lunch,” Michael Sandlofer explains to the audience.
Sadie’s performance includes rolling a rubberized metal tube. The equipment is meant to simulate the bear’s natural practice of turning over logs to search for beetles and ants.
Michael Sandlofer makes a point of emphasizing respect for nature throughout his show. He said his mission is “to let kids know we have to share the planet earth with all forms of life.”
Sharing with animals is a sermon the Sandlofer family lives by.