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Treating bears all in a day’s work

John Seelmeyer

Veterinarians Cathy Connelly of Community Animal Hospital in Reno and Mike Dearmin of Sierra Veterinary Specialists in Carson City see lots of cats and dogs during their typical workdays.

Bears? Not so much.

But both Dearmin and Connelly have pursued their interests in wild and exotic species since graduation from veterinary school, and both welcomed the chance to put their knowledge to work in treatment of two bear cubs that found refuge at the Animal Ark north of Reno.

The cubs a severely malnourished 16-pound male cub and a 46-pound male with a broken rear leg arrived at the Animal Ark late last month. The ark has rehabilitated 13 bears over the past 21 years, and its staff plan to prepare the two cubs for release back into the wild.

But first the bears needed to visit the doctors.

Connelly, who has treated other bears in the past for Animal Ark, says the malnourished young bear she examined presented a mystery that hasn’t been resolved.

Bears almost always give birth in February, she says, but the teeth of the young bear she examined strongly indicated he was only five months old which translates into a early-summer birth.

One possibility, she says, is that the bear was born in captivity. He was found near Mount Rose Highway just south of Tahoe Meadows. But despite curiosity surrounding his age, no one knows the cub’s story.

And Connelly didn’t have much time to think about it while she was examining the cub, who was under sedation.

The cub’s ears were severely frostbitten, and much of the exterior portion of the ears came off during the examination. The interior mechanisms of the cub’s ears, however, appear undamaged.

While Connelly’s training at the Colorado State University veterinary school didn’t include classwork in bears, she’s sought out post-graduate training in exotic species, she has a library of reference materials on wild animals and she keeps in close contact on the Web with experts in the field.

Dearmin, a specialist in veterinary surgery, was called in to take a look at the broken leg on the larger cub, which had been captured in a residential area south of Reno.

His wife, Karen Hassan, operates Eastern Sierra Equine LLC, and she has mobile equipment that allows Dearmin to examine large wildlife as well.

Although X-rays of the sedated bear showed Dearmin that one of its thigh bones had been severely broken, he thought the bone was healing well enough on its own that orthopedic surgery wouldn’t help matters.

And as he examined the bear, Dearmin marveled once again as he does when he’s examining any wildlife about the many adaptations that bears have made to thrive in the wild.

“It’s always a pleasure to work with these animals,” he says.

Connelly, meanwhile, says she’ll be following the cubs’ progress on a blog developed by Reno’s BrandLab as art of the Animal Ark Web site (animalark.org).

“No matter what species that comes in, you get attached pretty quick,” she says. “The cub seemed much more pleasant when he was waking up. Maybe it’s anthropomorphizing, but I thought he knew we were there to help him.”


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