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PAWS Mailing Address:
PO Box 1037
Lynnwood WA, 98046

PAWS Street Address:
15305 44th Ave W
Lynnwood, WA 98087

June 2007   

Kevin Mack

A Mother's Devotion
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On January 31, an adult female Black Bear was lying on the PAWS Wildlife Center X-ray table. She was badly injured, and her injuries were not an accident. They were the result of a human choice. In the not too distant past a human had taken away her ability to feed herself and to walk properly. They had accomplished this with two twitches of a finger. I had just seen her X-rays. On the film, the broken bones of her foreleg were interspersed with bright flecks of metal. A bullet had shattered her bone, fragmenting on impact. She had been hit in the face as well. The same tell-tale flecks were visible on the films of her head, but they were overshadowed by the catastrophic damage that had been done to the bone of her jaw. Her lower jaw appeared to have been nearly shot off, and her body had been trying in vain to put the pieces back together in the months that had passed since she had been wounded. As I looked at this beautiful animal I could not even begin to fathom how, when she was healthy and whole, anyone could have ever considered taking her life. Unfortunately, due to the extent of her injuries, taking her life was now the only humane option that was left.

Bear snuggling up to log
Lonely after the loss of her mother, bear 07-0064 was seen snuggling up to a log in her cage. This photo was taken off of a TV monitor connected to a camera in the bear's cage.

The sight of the injured bear would have been difficult enough to take if she had been brought to us alone, but it was amplified by the fact that she had been brought in with a yearling female cub clinging to her for comfort and protection. I wondered what this pair's last few months together had been like. The mother bear likely had fattened up for winter only to be grievously injured before she was able to retire with her cub to a safe, warm den. She had no choice but to forego her winter sleep and attempt to provide for her cub in a diminished state as the snow began to fall. She had clearly spent the last several months in agony. Despite her pain and her slow descent into emaciation, she did not abandon her daughter. Although her jaw no longer worked, her nose still did. As winter closed in and food became scarce, her nose led her to a place where food is always abundant; near the homes of the very species that had created her desperate situation.

When the mother bear and her cub were sighted near homes on the outskirts of Enumclaw, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officer Bruce Richards went out to investigate. After monitoring the bears for more than a week, and determining that the mother was in fact injured, he captured the pair and brought them to PAWS. Once at the center, both bears were tranquilized and examined simultaneously in two different rooms. A steady stream of good news flowed out of the room in which the cub was being examined. She was slightly underweight, but otherwise healthy; a testament to the strength and devotion of her mother. The good news about the cub was tempered by sadness as the realization of the extent of her mother's injuries set in.

An ordeal of suffering that was created by someone pulling a trigger several months earlier came to an end in the PAWS Wildlife Center radiology room. I don't know what the person who pulled that trigger was feeling at the time they attempted to take the bear's life, and I doubt that I would fully comprehend it if I did. I only know they did not see the same thing that I saw when they looked upon this animal. PAWS Wildlife Director Jennifer Convy, Veterinary Technician Jean Leonhart and I peacefully finished the work that an unknown person had violently begun. As the mother bear took her last breath, the only solace to be found was in the thought that her now orphaned cub was safely in our care. Her long, painful struggle had not been in vain.

Bears 06-2708 and 07-0064
Bears 06-2708 (left) and 07-0064 (right) helped each other immensely during their stay at PAWS.

The bear cub woke up from anesthesia in unfamiliar surroundings. Unbeknownst to her, she was now PAWS patient #07-0064, and the 50th Black Bear to be cared for at PAWS Wildlife Center. She was alone, but she sensed the presence of another bear in a cage adjacent to hers. The other bear, an orphaned male with the case #06-2708, sensed her as well. He had arrived in early December with a badly broken leg. The two bears had to remain separate for the time being. A quarantine period was necessary to ensure that the new cub did not have any illnesses or parasites that could be passed to the young male. Having just lost the comfort of her mother, cub 07-0064 was not happy with the arrangement. She spent most of her time sitting by the sliding metal door that divided the cages, clearly longing to have contact with the bear she knew was on the other side. In time, the cubs were introduced to one another, and in the months that followed each provided the other with something they desperately needed.

With no physical impairments or illnesses with which to contend, what bear 07-0064 needed most was companionship. Although extremely wary of her at first, cub 06-2708 eventually warmed to his new cage mate and became the companion she needed. Before long they were chasing one another, wrestling and generally behaving as you would expect two young bears to behave. As luck would have it, this is exactly what bear 06-2708 needed; an intense regimen of exercise to strengthen his injured leg and restore its range of movement. The two cubs continued to meet each others needs for the following four months, growing bigger and stronger every day. As the month of May came to an end, so did the cubs' time together.

On June 1, I arrived at the wildlife center at 7 am and checked in on the two bears. They had been secured into one section of caging the night before to make it easier to sedate cub 07-0064 in preparation for her release. As I peeked into the cage, I saw cub 06-2708 lying on his side, sound asleep. Cub 07-0064 was asleep directly behind him, and her head was resting on his rump. I felt a tinge of guilt about the fact that I would soon be separating the two bears, but it was necessary to return each cub to the region in which they were found. I hoped that by the end of the day, cub 07-0064 would be feeling more relieved about her newfound freedom than depressed about her lost companionship.

Bear runs down a logging road
Black Bear 07-0064 runs down a logging road at her release.

By 9:30 am, cub 07-0064 was in a chemically-induced sleep on the wildlife center surgery table receiving her final examination from PAWS Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee. She had just been weighed, and her 115 pound weight was extremely impressive considering she had arrived at the center weighing a mere 45 pounds. A news crew filmed the wildlife medical staff as they performed the bear's exit examination. She was then placed on a stretcher while still groggy from her sedation and carried outside to the same transport container in which she and her mother had been brought to PAWS. Officer Richards had come to the aid of this cub and her mother in their time of need, and he would now be completing the circle by driving the cub to her new wild home.

Bear pauses at stump
Once she was out of range of the menacing human, the bear paused below a large stump before disappearing into the trees.

Because of what had happened to her mother, as well as the fact that he had captured the two bears in close proximity to a residential area, Officer Richards wanted to ensure that cub 07-0064 understood that humans were a threat. In order to drive this point home, scare tactics were used at her release. As the bear exited her transport carrier, she first felt the sting of a high-velocity beanbag hitting her in the rump, and as she broke into a run explosive devices called "cracker-shells" thundered and boomed above her. Officer Richards shouted above the racket, his cries of "Go on bear!" clearly audible between the explosions. It was an impressive display, and I hoped that the cub would remember it any time she encountered humans from that day forth.

The bear continued to run along a logging road until she was well out of sight of Officer Richards. She then turned off the road and made her way through a brushy clear-cut. She stopped briefly below a large stump before continuing on toward a narrow strip of trees. As the cub disappeared from view, the ultimate goal of her mother's care was realized. Her daughter was now a wild, free and independent bear.

All rights reserved. 2007 Progressive Animal Welfare Society

A Northwest leader in protecting animals since 1967, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) shelters homeless animals, rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, and empowers people to demonstrate compassion and respect for animals in their daily lives.