Lessons Learned From a Local 750-Pound Black Bear
BY ROBERT CAUFIELD
The difference between me and you is that weekday mornings you have to trudge out into the bitter cold in the dead of winter. I work at home, I don’t even get out of bed before noon if I don’t feel like it. Some people say I hibernate like a bear, but I don’t care because it’s my nature. It’s just how I am. I’m like a bear, especially if I don’t get my way, but enough about me because there’s nothing worse than a self-indulgent editorialist, and the only reason we’re off to such a start is so I might tune into my bear nature, my totem aspect, because what I really want to tell you about today is bears, and one bear in particular that I heard about.
Now, mind you, I don’t know a lot about bears. I’m not a bear expert or anything, but I know something most other people do not, and that’s that bears are pretty much like people. Not everybody understands this, and who would unless they knew a bear in a close personal way? That’s where a guy comes in who’s lived in this area for some years and who I had a talk with, I’m going to say 20 years ago, and he had a bear as a pet, a friend really, that he kept in a nicely designed environment, not that bears are suited to such man-made enclosures, but sometimes it’s the only thing a person can do when as cubs they lose their mothers.
One day, the guy with the bear told me, he left town for two weeks or so, and prior to that he had been with his bear all the time. He sometimes slept next to the bear, in his den, and took really good care of it. He even brought the bear into town on occasion in the back of his pick-up truck, into Livingston or Bozeman. The bear really enjoyed that, getting out and meeting people. The two were regular pals, and got along splendidly. And keep in mind that this bear did not have bear friends, just his owner, and so when the owner left town the poor bear was left all alone except for who ever it was that saw to his needs in the meantime.
The night the bear owner returned something strange and telling happened, something I never forgot after I heard about it, and something that should teach all of us a great lesson about animals, especially bears, and why animals should be treated with respect, as much respect as your father or mother. As I recall, the way the story was told to me, the bear acted oddly upon the owner’s return, seemingly angry and belligerent, and this was no little itty-bitty bear. Not by a long shot. It wasn’t a Panda bear or anything like that, it was a full grown American bear, and he then began mussing the hay around on the floor of his cave, where he and the owner both were, and made a space in the hay. Then he muscled his owner down to the ground, forced him down, and the owner was scared because bears are big and strong and can easily kill you if they feel like it. Anyway, the bear forced the guy to lay down, and held him there a long time, wanting to keep him close for companionship due to whatever feelings the bear had, feelings you’d have to say were strong because the bear was upset and unhappy for being left alone, without his pal, who he depended on for warmth and friendship, and he needed to express those feelings. And we don’t even know (how could we?) to what extent the bear entertained his feelings of being abandoned, or to what degree a bear thinks about such things. Maybe he thought a lot over those two weeks he was left alone, and felt he would be left alone forever. And that’s a sad, sad thing that reminds me of when, as a child, my parents got rid of a little mutt we had and took him to the ASPCA, but we went and got him after a week or so, and he was curled up and alone in the corner like the saddest thing you ever saw. I took good care of him from then on, but the die was cast after we did that to him. He knew he wasn’t wanted, and one day he ran off and never came back, because he knew and felt more than we gave him credit for—it’s a sad, sad thing, the way we treat animals.
Back to the bear—the owner stayed where the bear put him, pretending to sleep, until a few hours passed, and then later he sneaked away while the bear slept, because he was afraid the bear would react badly, even violently, because who knows how deeply a bear thinks and feels? We have know idea, but after hearing about the bear I just told you about, I realized how foolish a lot of people are about animals, especially scientists who say they’re petty much machines that operate only on instinct, without any feeling or spirit, and how could such people possibly know what they don’t know anything about in the first place? Reminds me of Planet of the Apes, the way the apes disregarded the feelings and intelligence of the humans, and treated them as inferior. In that story the tables were turned. And who knows? One day it could be Planet of the Bears right here on earth, because what goes around comes around, and people would know how it feels to be treated like an animal. No, animals have lots going on inside, they are fully aware, and the bear I just told you about who missed his owner so much and who had such deep feelings proves it.
Editor’s note: The owner of the 750-pound black bear (Buffy) was author Ben Mikaelsen, who lives near Bozeman. After Buffy passed away on Sept. 1, 2010, Ben wrote:
During his life…he came to be a close friend and an intimate part of our family…the most wonderful friend a person could ever have asked for. Except for treats, he lived without vice. All he ever wanted was to be our friend.