My first black bear encounter involved spotting one while out jogging, which resulted in running my best mile in the opposite direction. Obviously, this is terrible advice in the event of a black bear incident, but the story had local black bear expert, Sally Maughan, laughing through the phone.

Sally Maughan is the Founder and President of the Idaho Black Bear Rehabilitation (IBBR), which has captured the attention of animal enthusiasts Nationwide. I was thrilled when she graciously joined me for an over-the-phone-interview.

Sally’s story took me by surprise. I had originally anticipated being a black bear caretaker would have been her lifelong passion, but it had an unassuming beginning. While she was already an established wildlife rehabilitator, her only formal knowledge on  bears was derived from a book about a family who raised a rescue cub in Alaska.

So when she received a desperate call for her to take in a black bear, she ignored it.

“I imagined Dolly Parton nails,” Sally laughed recounting her first mental image of the bear.

It wasn’t until the third phone call that she relented and made some inquiries. To her surprise, she learned the bear was a cub… a 5lb cub. Taking the leap with a little less trepidation, she took in the cub and the start to the black bear rehabilitation was underway!

“Ruggles, that first cub, taught me how to be a bear,” Sally recalled affectionately.

Sally went on to explain her bear encounters to me, but before disclosing her fondest stories, she threw out some caution. “Never treat them like a cat or a dog. Don’t allow them to imprint on you. You can be “bear mom,” but you’re not trying to domestic them. When I realized they were starting to try to form bonds, I knew it was time to let them go. I learned to read their eyes and tell what they were thinking.”

On a lighter note, she talked about Griz. Griz came to them missing his lower jaw, which had him undergo a skin graft to insure his survival in the wild. Despite these roadblocks, he was her favorite “Grandpa Bear.”

“Griz was a real Grandpa Bear. He would let you do whatever you needed to without giving you a hard time. He was a very social bear,” Sally explained.

On one occasion, when she had experienced some depressing news regarding IBBR’s financial state, she had sat down beside his pen to mourn alone. Griz took notice and instead of causing a ruckus, he lumbered over to join her. Silently, he slumped up against the fence and stayed with her the entire hour she lamented.


The following are shared from Sally’s personal photos/memories:

This is Tecumseh & me – looks like a nice mellow picture, but the reality is it took more than an hour & if you look at his eyes, he is TOTALLY focused on the camera.  He wants to get to it so badly.

The next one is a bottle baby – looks like he is kissing me, but in reality cubs will smell their mom’s breath as an indication of what she is eating.  This cub is too young for that, but the instinct is still there so that’s what he is doing – hope I didn’t have garlic for lunch ..ha ha.

This is a cub called Napili and we were meeting for the first time.  I’m sure I was the funniest looking mom for a bear to Napili and nothing about me smelled like his real mom.

This cub is about 4-5 weeks old & eyes not open yet.  I don’t generally wear gloves with cubs this young, but you can see the scars on my arm from older cubs.  They aren’t mean, but if you drop the bottle or run out of milk, it’s WW3 and I’m in the middle of it.  They have zero tolerance for the milk stopping until they are full.

And these two are the very reason I wear gloves when bottle feeding older cubs.  Bottle feeding is one way to know for sure they got all the milk & how much they got.  If they we use milk in a dish you never know how much they got in them compared to how much they got on them or dumped over.  A bears first instinct is to tip over anything they can so we prefer to use the bottle until they are older & then we wean them to dishes we rigged so they can’t tip them over.  Also at this age they always decide the bear next to them is getting more milk and they will get into a quick, somewhat rough, but temporary battle with each other before settling down again.


With any wild animal, there’s always an element of danger. One such unpleasant incident arose when her father (who is blind) visited to assist with the bears. While exiting Griz’s enclosure, he failed to notice that the pen’s gate had not latched. An ever curious Griz used this as his own adventure time and exited the enclosure. His new found freedom terrorfied him. When he came across Sally and her father, his usually calm demeanor was replaced with anxiety and fear. He reacted by backing them into a corner. To Sally’s terror, her dog entered the scene and found his throat being wedged between Griz’s jaws. Sally was mortified that she was about to witness her dog being killed. But the upset bear released the frightened pup before too much damage was done. Mustering her courage, Sally managed to corral the bear back into it’s pen using a rope.

The incident was a firm reminder of a bear’s power and that continual caution must be observed.   

Over the years, she has assisted countless bears and was pleased to announce their rehabilitation success rate is outstandingly high. Through triumph and upheaval, Sally has always pushed forward in her pursuit to continue to care for bears. She has started to make arrangements for their continued care once she is no longer able to assist them herself.

While IBBR cannot allow visitors on the site due to safety requirements, they are always grateful for their donors and the support of the community. If you would like to make a financial contribution or learn more about their incredible work, please visit:

Feel free to visit the following link to enjoy a smile or two while watching two of their bears, America and Liberty playing (both bears will be returned to WA end of May or first part of June):

America, the comical.

Look what America found when I was cleaning in there the other day. 🙂

Posted by Idaho Black Bear Rehab IBBR on Friday, December 22, 2017

Thanks for your time and support,

Animated Anna


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