Alive and Bella Con’t

Photo by Mike McIntosh

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The bear cub formerly known as Dizzy Lizzy makes a miraculous recovery

By Sarah Ryeland

On Aug. 15, 2010, Mike McIntosh received a phone call he will never forget.

He and his coworkers at Bear With Us, a charity devoted to rehabilitating black bears and returning them to the wild, got word that a small bear cub had been hit by a car and was laying in a ditch on Highway 169 near Bala.

“It took us about two hours to get there,” says McIntosh, who was at Bear With Us in Sprucedale. “She wasn’t conscious and her breathing rate indicated that she was in shock. There was blood seeping from her ear.”

Mike gave the cub a sedative to ease the stress on her little body and transported her to the nearest veterinary office that was open on a Sunday. X-rays revealed that Bella, as she was now called, had a broken femur in her right rear leg.

“The more pressing concern was the blood running out of her ear,” says McIntosh. “We paid the X-ray bill and brought her home, but we expected to find her dead by the time we got back to Bear With Us.”

That night McIntosh stayed at Bella’s side, doing what he could to rehydrate the cub. Although she was unable to drink, McIntosh carefully trickled water down her throat using a syringe and a small hose. To his delight, Bella was standing up on her own by six a.m. Monday morning.

McIntosh was pleased with the little bear’s progress, and brought Bella to Dr. Jason McLeod of the Algonquin Animal Hospital in Huntsville. There, Dr. McLeod examined Bella and addressed a few concerns.

“The primary concern was the fact that Bella’s head was tilted, indicating cranial damage,” says McIntosh. “It was suggested that if she had brain damage her return to the wild would be impossible.”

There was even talk of euthanizing the cub, but McIntosh strongly resisted.

“She had progressed from a nearly dead bear to a bear with attitude in less than 24 hours,” he says.

Bella was in a lot of pain when she put weight on her broken leg, so Dr. McLeod administered a long-acting painkiller and left the cub in McIntosh’s care at Bear With Us. In order for her to have the surgery she needed on her leg, the little bear’s symptoms of brain damage would have to lessen, showing her doctors that she would indeed survive the surgery.

While Bella convalesced, Dr. McLeod contacted his friend from veterinary college, Dr. Mitch Gillick of the Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital. The two vets discussed Bella’s recovery and how to go about repairing the cub’s leg if her brain injury didn’t stand in the way. A metal plate would have to be inserted into Bella’s leg and it wouldn’t be an easy procedure.

But Bella stayed true to form and her head injury improved so much that she was able to have her surgery.

Dr. McLeod escorted the little bear from Huntsville to Toronto and he and Dr. Gillick, with the help of the Toronto hospital team, repaired Bella’s broken femur. From there, Bella and her team of caregivers were focused on recovery. With a few bumps along the way – including a lung infection that gave the team a scare – she showed how much of a fighter she was and completely bounced back.

“Her stress level diminished immediately once she was introduced to three others of her own kind,” says McIntosh, referring to the other orphans at Bear With Us. Bella also grew quickly and started putting on weight. “She was running and playing and climbing trees,” he says.

At the moment, the little black bear is hibernating with a few of her friends, but her release into the wild is rapidly approaching.

“Bella’s release is scheduled for July 2011 providing there are natural food sources available,” says McIntosh. “Release times may vary by a month or so, depending if food sources like berries are early to bloom or not.”

So while Bella hibernates the rest of the cold weather away, the team at Bear With Us prepares for her departure. One that may be bittersweet for the staff, but miraculous for one little bear cub.

Bella’s return to the wild is possible because of Bear With Us and others. A big thank you goes out to Dale and Jody of the Muskoka Wildlife Centre, the Ontario Provincial Police officer who decided not to shoot Bella, Dr. Jason McLeod of Algonquin Animal Hospital in Huntsville, who donated his time for diagnosis and veterinary care prior to surgery, Dr. Mitchell Gillick of the Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital who, with his team of surgeons, made it possible to release Bella back into the wild. The cost of the surgery was donated to Bear With Us Rehabilitation Centre to ensure Bella had a future as a wild bear.

Mike McIntosh

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