Buffy and Baca
I have always felt that all creatures on this planet have a natural curiosity for each other. Put them together in a 40 acre pasture and they will gravitate toward each other until that moment when they frighten each other and either flee or fight. From then on many will become life long enemies. With my pets, I let the natural curiosity bring them together, but then I always made sure I was present when they first came together to make sure it was controlled and non-threatening.
Our dog, Baca (from Chewbacca ‘Star Wars’) became a life-long friend of Buffy. When Buffy died, there was no delicate way to bury an 800 pound animal. As such we had to dig a hole with a backhoe and lower Buffy into the grave with a large logging chain.
When we made his grave that morning, it was mixed with tears and a lot of reflection. After a small ceremony, my wife returned to the house and I to my shop, each one of us wanting space for reflection.
After a half hour, my wife called me and asked if I had seen Baca? No, I hadn’t. So we went outside to look for him. We found Baca lying beside Buffy’s grave, looking down at the ground with the saddest look. Now Connie and I had another good cry.
We weren’t the only ones feeling the loss. Animals do know and they do feel.
Out and About:
Buffy meets new people
Going to town was always an adventure with Buffy!
One time, I was stopped once for speeding in my pickup truck. As the highway patrol officer wrote me a ticket, our pet, Buffy, poked his head out the open window, grabbed the ticket pad from the officer's hand and ate it.
The officer stared, speechless, then drove away and totally forgot my citation.
You would too. Buffy is a 7-foot, 700-pound black bear!
Bringing Baby Home:
Buffy gets accustomed to his new life
In 1984, Buffy came into my life. A research facility that had been studying him returned him to the game farm where he had been born.
I knew little about Buffy's past except that he could not go to a zoo or be freed to the wild because his claws had been removed (I don't know why). And I knew he'd probably be treated as a useless animal—and therefore killed—if left on the farm.
So, I agreed to take the 20-pound, 16-week-old cub to my Montana home.
Before picking up my new baby, I read dozens of books on bears and got the state and federal licenses required to keep the animal. I spent $25,000 to build a sturdy chain-link pen around two sides of my house. I made Buffy a spring-fed pond, a playground and a den and gave him plenty of running room.
Finally, I was ready for anything—or so I thought!
Raising a Rascal:
Buffy gets MORE accustomed to his new life
The cuddly rascal who suddenly joined my family (which also included four cats and a dog) caught me unprepared.
The first night, I lay in bed listening to his haunting cry. I crept out and sat near him in his den.
After a few minutes he crawled on my lap and sucked the pads on his front feet. I hummed and rocked him to sleep. The first six months, I rocked Buffy to sleep every night. I spent hours feeding him, playing with him, watching him. Every sound or gesture puzzled me.
Because Buffy's muscle structure and coordination resembles that of a human, his play is very humanlike. Mentally, I found him much harder to figure out. As a mere 100-pound cub, he would stand and shake his head playfully at a neighbor's angry Angus bull. Other times he would cower behind me at the sight of a small lamb.
And was is so mischievous. One day Buffy, then 6 years old and 400 pounds, sneaked into the house while I was gone. For an hour he sat in the bathtub, tearing down the shower curtains and biting open every bottle of shampoo and conditioner he could find. He even turned on the water and smeared some toothpaste in his armpits and on the ceiling!
What a mess! But he was so proud of himself, I had to hug him.
Watch Out For That...Tongue:
Learning the hard way that Buffy likes candy
When Buffy was little, he nursed from a bottle. When I tried to wean him at 5 months old, he refused solid foods. That problem was solved by substituting his bottle milk with water.
Buffy took one suck and angrily threw the bottle across the kitchen. Then he ran after it and sucked again. A second time he flung it. By that night he had abandoned his beloved bottle and ate solid food.
Many things about Buffy I learned the hard way. I never appreciated how long his anteater-like tongue was until we were playing one day when he was still a cub.
With a piece of candy in my mouth, I blew gently into Buffy's face to watch his nose twitch. In a blink, Buffy snaked his long tongue to the very back of my throat. He licked my tonsils and stole the candy. While I gagged, friends howled laughing.
Finally, a Bond Develops
Snuggling with a bear is a singular experience!
My friendship with Buffy grew painfully slow. But one evening, I discovered a wild male black bear attacking Buffy's pen. The wild bear had nearly broken down the door. I shouted and threw rocks until the bear lumbered off, then I crawled in the pen.
Buffy's tiny front feet (he was only about 5 months old at the time) pumped out from under his fuzzy rump as he ran frantically in circles, bawling with fear. Finally he stopped and stared at me. Shaking, he clambered onto my lap and hugged me. I was crying. We cuddled for a long time that night.
Finally we slept the night together, bonding and becoming family.
Overnight I became not only his provider but his guardian.
Wild Animals Are NOT Pets:
Important information for wise readers
I do not recommend wild animals as pets. Dozens of times I have seen tragic results with someone hurt or killed. A neglected dog becomes a 40-pound nuisance. A neglected bear can kill you. That said, Buffy learned that I existed to help him. I spent three or four hours each day with him. He trusted me so much at one point he bit down on his own forearm while I cut open his paw to remove a sliver.
Buffy's play was funny at times. When he teased the dog, he avoided a nip on the nose by going over to the closet and bringing back a broom to use as a poke stick.
He could also be scary. One summer, Buffy stood behind me and wrapped his huge forearms around my arms and chest. When I told him to get down, he laid back his ears and squeezed harder. I stomped on his hind toe. He bawled and grabbed the hurt toe, dancing in circles on the other hind foot. Then, standing to his full height, he roared in my face.
His humid breath fogged my glasses as we stared at each other for several tense seconds. Then he sat and rubbed his toe. I kneeled next to him and helped rub his hurt paw. Soon he nuzzled my nose, his gesture for forgiveness.
I've learned that Buffy has a keen sense of justice. If a stranger had stomped on his toe for no apparent reason, Buffy would have killed him.
Bears are heavily hunted in Montana
Most summer afternoons we hiked in the woods or went swimming. Buffy loved to run free, eat berries, overturn rocks and tear apart rotted stumps to look for grubs and ants. Because of hunters, we didn't wander far apart. Buffy grew to believe that all people were to be trusted.
Sadly, that wasn't true.
Even today, the hunting of bears in Montana orphans many cubs. The cubs die slowly from starvation. That's why I wrote my first novel, "Rescue Josh McGuire." A story about a boy trying to save a bear cub's life.
Luckily, Buffy was never hunted.
Time To Sleep, Bear:
Buffy's hibernation routine
During winter, heavy snows cover the ground here in Montana. To keep from starving, all bears sleep until spring.
As the autumn air would cool, Buffy grew thick hair. His compulsive eating added body fat from which he drew energy during his six months of hibernation.
Before hibernating in his straw-filled den, Buffy would collect all his toys: a basketball, a tire, a skateboard and a big food dish. He would set these carefully around his nest. Then, protected from the icy winter wind and snow, he would settle in for his nap.
I used to crawl into the darkness of his den for a short goodbye. If I stayed too long, Buffy would pull straw over my legs, as if preparing me to stay.
Hibernation was a part of Buffy's world I couldn't share. I used to wait until he was sound asleep before leaving. I always missed him while he napped, but every spring my life with Buffy picked up where we left off.