Unexpected Guests: A Story About Bears, a Rescue, and Never Giving Up Hope

I’m not ready to talk about losing Moose, so I’ll tell you a story instead. It’s a two-parter.

Part I – The Bear Family

One recent Thursday, five days after Moose passed away, I was puttering around a house that felt a lot emptier than normal, missing my beautiful “Moo Bear.” Standing at the slider-door window, I was listening to Mike, who was in the kitchen talking about cars or something. Suddenly, he tensed up. Looking beyond me to the meadow outside, he asked, “What is that? It’s big and dark!”

I turned to look and, sure enough, a large sow bear lumbered into the field.

“A bear! Look!” Mike was instantly at the window beside me, binoculars in hand, like he’s The Flash or something. I ran for my camera. With the lens to my eye, I zoomed in.

“And cubs!” I exclaimed. Two rambunctious cubs bounded along behind her, more interested in playing and tugging on each other’s ears than in the lesson she was teaching.

Mama and cubs

She came in close, lured by one of the many ant hills that line the field. Seemingly head first, she tucked in and scraped out the nest. After only a minute or two, she turned – perturbed, perhaps, with the ferocity of the ants protecting their queen – and led her cubs back the way she’d come. Within moments, she and her little family were out of sight beyond the tree line once more.

Part II – Trooper Rocky Cubby Luke Skywalker Vader Shadow

That Sunday, I took Luna for a run up the county road. My intention was to run one mile and turn back. However, when we got to the one-mile marker, on a whim I decided to go a little further. There’s a place where the creek runs under the road, creating a picturesque scene of mossy rocks and cool, dark shadows over the water as it rushes along its path. When we got there, I peered over the edge of the bank and down into the creek. “Look here, Luna!” I said, though she was more interested in sniffing the tall grass that lined the road, “This is the place the skunks’ll get ya!”

Just as I said that, the head of a black and white animal came into view, barely visible at first among the weeds. Jumping back ever so slightly, I thought, “Skunk!” But it didn’t look quite right…. “No, not skunk…” I processed the information, trying to reconcile what I saw in my mind. “What is that? A cat? Kitteh? No, not kitteh.” Then the thought of the two black bear cubs we saw on Thursday flooded my mind.

“Bear cub! Oh, crap! What do I do?!”

Upon closer inspection, it was not a bear (phew!), but a dog that was looking up at me with an expression in his eyes that mirrored mine: “Oh, crap! What do I do?!”

The creature was on a thin shelf over the bank, high above the creek but low enough down the bank that it was not visible to passersby.

Only through the grace of all that is good did I go to that specific spot along the road, stand, and lean far over the bank for a better look.

I had a couple of dog treats in my pocket, so I tried to lure the pup up from his perch, which was not easy to get to (and I wasn’t too keen on getting too close without knowing more about this guy). I tossed him a treat and – miraculously – it landed within reach of his hungry mouth. The speed in which he ate it told me more than I could see of his body at that point – he was starving. He also was not moving, making no attempt to flee or follow. This had me worried.

As fast as we could, Luna and I ran back and retrieved Mike. Together, he and I examined the dog and tried to get him to the top of the bank. No go. The poor pup was not moving. We soon discovered why. Skin and bones, he was too exhausted. Plus, his right back paw had been severed clean off, his toes completely gone as if he’d been caught in a snare. Mike carefully scooped him up and we brought him home.  Not once did he complain or lash out. In fact, he seemed to know we were there to help. He seemed relieved – exhausted but relieved.

Although weak, he was eating well,  so we put him on a regimen of frequent, small meals and leftover pain medication and antibiotics from Moose or Misty (thanks to them both – still showing love from beyond!). Within hours, he began to show signs of improvement, could walk short distances, and relaxed enough to sleep and get the healing rest he needed.

Dog named Oreo

How sweet is this face?!

Meanwhile, I posted his picture on the Priest River/North Idaho Facebook page, hoping for shares and for someone local to recognize his sweet face. I also posted to the two local animal shelters’ Lost and Found directories. We crossed our fingers, but the little guy had obviously been lost for weeks. The idea that the owners had given up (or worse, had left him on purpose) crossed our minds. We were beginning to lose hope that anyone would claim him (or, if they did, would they still want him after they found out about his severe, life-changing injury?). We were prepared for him to live with us, to take on whatever we needed to do to help this little guy get better and have a great life. And so we began to think up names.

My initial thought was to call him Oreo but I dismissed it. Surely someone else had thought of that, but I thought the chances slim that Oreo was his real name.

“Skywalker!” Mike suggested. I raised an eyebrow and he explained, “You know, because of the injury.”

“No,” Scout argued, “If anything, it should be Vader or Luke.”

“No Star Wars names, guys,” I said. “And, if we’re going to name this guy after his injury – which we’re not – then it would be Lieutenant Dan or nothing!”

I actually wanted to call him Cubby because of my initial reaction when I first saw him. Then, Trooper because, well, he is one (and Mike liked that name because of Iron Maiden). Then, Rocky, because he’s a survivor (Get it? Eye of the Tiger, baby!). Meanwhile, Scout called him Shadow.

At about 8:00 p.m. Monday night, after I’d checked e-mail, Facebook, and the directories one more time – finding no response – I shut off the computer and thought about going to bed. “One more trip outside,” I thought, so I snapped on Luna’s leash and we took Trooper Rocky Cubby Luke Skywalker Vader Shadow out for one last pee and short stroll of the night. We walked around the yard for a bit, marveling at how this dog had such spirit and was improving so rapidly – such a great dog. Obviously someone’s pet. But would they want him? We speculated at what might have happened. Did he get his foot injured and his owners dumped him?

Was he running away, or trying to get home?

So many questions, all answered with a single phone call.

Returning from our stroll, the beep of the answering machine signaled a message. The voice on the recording was a woman claiming to know the dog. “I think you have my dog,” she said. When we spoke a few minutes later, her voice was filled with tears of relief; she had been looking for a month for Oreo (yep, his real name – I should’ve listened to my inner voice on that one). When I told her that Oreo had a severe injury and asked if that would matter to her she immediately said, “I don’t care – I want him back! He’s my baby!” Oreo’s mom is a woman after my own heart. That is exactly the response I was hoping for.

Later she told us that Oreo had disappeared in the night and not come back. She and her husband had searched for him for weeks, eventually figuring they’d never find him; they’d finally after a month written him off for dead. Almost. Oreo’s mom never stopped checking the directories, hoping always that someone would find her baby.

Oreo is now back with his family where he belongs and where he can truly begin to heal. We were lucky to find him when we did (one more night without food or water and he most likely would’ve been a goner) and we would’ve been happy to welcome him to our family as a permanent addition, but he belongs with his real family. He has a long row to hoe, both physically and psychologically, and the comfort and familiarity of home can help him.

So, what is the moral of this story?

  • Always check out the scenery – and look over the bank?!
  • Family doesn’t give up looking for you when you’ve been stuck in a trap?
  • Some men can’t be trusted to name pets?
  • Trust your gut; listen to your intuition (it could save someone’s life)?
  • Love rules.

I think this story shines the spotlight on simple things: family, hope, and perseverance. It reminds me that the unexpected can be both heartbreaking and wonderfully reassuring that life is good. There is goodness. It reminds me that we are all here to wonder, to explore, to hope, to love – and to keep loving.

I think that’s a good story.

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2 Responses to Unexpected Guests: A Story About Bears, a Rescue, and Never Giving Up Hope

  1. Melinda G. Widgren says:

    Happy, teary eyes. I think that is a great story!

    • Leanna Widgren says:

      Thank you! I feel in some ways like my Moo-Bear led me to “Cubby.” There was a lot of palpable love in this house that weekend. 🙂