Today is Maddie's lucky day.
The 12-year-old female black bear lives in a 20-foot tall by 20-foot wide double corncrib. She has never lived with enough space to run and play, which are natural behaviors for a 394 pound, full-grown bear.
But today, personnel from Lions Tigers & Bears, including Bobbi Brink, the group’s founder and director, will lure Maddie into a transfer cage, and she will be loaded into a hauler and driven to the organization’s sanctuary in Alpine, Calif., near San Diego.
Current owner Kim Bishop Wymer lives in Covington, Ohio, about 30 miles north of Dayton. She is surrendering her to a sanctuary before the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act goes into effect Jan. 1. The new law will require owners to obtain permits, liability insurance, and meet a slew of regulations, some specific to the species they are keeping.
“Kim knew Maddie did not have the best home a bear could have,” Ms. Brink said. “Her decision to take Maddie certainly came from a good place, but the bear needs room to run and play, which Kim cannot provide.”
Maddie is one of nine Ohio bears to be rescued in recent weeks by Lions Tigers & Bears, an accredited sanctuary. All the bears will receive a full medical evaluation from a veterinarian including blood work, stool sampling, a dental check-up, vaccinations, microchipping, and other basic medical attention that can be done under sedation.
An Ohio family bought the bear as a pet and planned to sell her to a game hunt ranch when she grew too large to play with before Ms. Wymer stepped in seven years ago. Ms. Wymer was unable to be reached for comment Tuesday.
The new enclosure in California will be a four-acre habitat with a pool, a bedroom for each bear, logs and rock enclosures to play on, and rolling, grassy hills. Maddie will share it with another bear.
Private exotic-animal ownership became a hot-button issue in Ohio after events in Zanesville in 2011 in which dozens of exotic animals escaped after their owner, Terry Thompson, set them free before committing suicide. As a result, 50 animals were killed: 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, 8 bears, 3 cougars, 2 wolves, 1 baboon, and a macaque.
Some owners are surrendering their animals before the new law goes into effect. Other exotic animals living in poor conditions because their owners can’t properly care for them will need to be relinquished before the law takes effect, Ms. Brink said.
Ms. Brink is logging 8,000 miles during the trip to move the nine bears. Last year her organization rescued 32 animals, including lions, tigers, mountain lions, and a bear, from a private home in Lancaster, Ohio.
“There are thousands more [nationwide],” she said. “It’s a problem that’s not going away anytime soon.”
Ms. Brink said she hopes eventually to see a federal ban on owning bears.
“Ninety-nine percent of the bears in private ownership are kept in abusive situations,” Ms. Brink said. “They don’t have grass under the feet, they don’t have a place to immerse themselves in water, in some cases they aren’t even getting fresh water daily.”
The sanctuary picked up two bears in Reynoldsburg, a suburb of Columbus, on Monday. The six remaining bears came from Prospect, about 40 miles north of Columbus, and were picked up by the organization July 1 to be taken to other sanctuaries.
Lions, Tigers & Bears is a federally and state licensed nonprofit rescue facility dedicated to providing a safe haven for unwanted and abused exotic cats and other exotic animals.
To make a donation or for more information, visit www.lionstigersandbears.org or call 619-659-8078.