Griz and Tank lived out their lives at Wildlife Images, an animal rehabilitation center located in Merlin, Oregon, which is about a hour drive up I-5 from where I live and work. The center is the home to at least a couple hundred orphaned or injured animals at any one time, all being raised or repaired so that they can be released back into the wild. The facility was developed Dave Siddon, who spent most of his life working to educate people about wildlife and their very precarious status in our present day world ... and it's now run by Dave's son David.
Tank and Griz came to Wildlife Images as very young cubs, and orphans. Griz was blind in one eye (he was hit by the train that killed his 'natural' mother). And as you can tell, both he and Tank were thoroughly imprinted on humans, so they couldn’t ever be released back into the wild. As far as those two characters were concerned, Dave was "Mom" ... and the only reason that I was able to safely experience the nerve-tingling thrill of interacting with a cougar and grizzly bear was the fact that "Mom" was never very far away [other than for that one photo with Tank you saw at the Greetings page of this web site, of course, but Tank was in a really mellow mood that day, and Dave told me not to worry, he had an extra pair of shorts at the house].
As you've probably figured out by now, I've spent a lot of time at Wildlife Images. It's a great place to hang out with interesting critters, and to forget (at least for a few hours) about pending deadlines and the bureaucratic process.
And, if nothing else, there was nothing quite like getting into a big tub of water with a large and playful bear to completely focus one’s the mind on the present ... and encouraging questions like "what am I doing here?"
I think Griz was wondering too.
But I don't think he ever worried about it a whole lot. Not when his wrestling record was something in the neighborhood of 150 wins and 0 losses. Grizzly bear rules, of course.
I later developed a smigin of brains (and decided to stay out of the tub, thereafter) when Dave suggested that Griz would probably really enjoy holding me under for a while and playing with the bubbles.
But, inevitably, the realities of life do catch up with all of us, even at a magical place like Wildlife Images ...
A side note, and a bit of a sad one, if you don't mind.
I learned a great deal from Dave, probably far more than I realize, and I can only hope it was enough ... because life does, in fact, catch up with the real life heroes in this world as well as the fictional ones. In Dave's case, the pursuing villain was pancreatic cancer. But he never let it overwhelm his spirit ... or his love for his treasured creatures. Dave died in October of '96, but his wife, Judy, and son, David, keep Wildlife Images going ... and it's a place well worth visiting if you are ever near Merlin, Oregon.
You can find them all at Wildlife Images, 11845 Lower River Road, Grants Pass, OR, 97526. They have regularly scheduled tours there [call for tour times at 541-476-0222], accept donations with grace and gratitude (because the place is run entirely by donations), and never fail to educate ... especially the local and visiting school kids.
Sad to say, I never was able to get back into the compound with Griz and re-establish our friendship. He died in October of 1998 (several of the folks at Wildlife Images believed he died of a broken heart since he'd lost both Dave and his little kitten buddy within a few months of each other … but a necropsy determined that he ultimately died from the injuries he’s received as a cub) before Dave's son and I could work out a reasonable 'safety net' replacement for the voice of 'Mom.'
But us humans are really good at coming up with rationalizations to explain the frustrations of life. Which means I tend to share the generally held view of the folks at Wildlife Images who are convinced that Dave and Griz have found a way to link up by now, and are back to frolicking again. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
But I was able to get back in with Tank, who --- much like all cats --- seemed to take life a day (and a good scratch) at a time. Did he miss us? Probably not. Cats are cats, and you have to accept them for what they are ... which, as Dave cheerfully explained it, is exactly how Tank accepted us. With a wary eye (as you can see in the photo by Jim Mitchell) but a warm heart. And for all of that, I remain truly grateful.
Tank died two weeks after that last photo was taken ... of old age, while still able to move about and enjoy life within the limits of his remaining strength, wits and habitat ... which, I suppose, is just about the best all of us can hope for.