Since playing polar bear keeper for a day, I have to confess that I am now totally obsessed with the creatures. Mark McDonough, the primary keeper, was incredibly helpful. So I stopped by several days later to thank him again—-and get another chance to throw fish at them( we didn’t have time to show you that in the piece. Suffice it to say, I kept tossing the fish at the wrong places).

Nuka and Koda are brothers, and I asked Mark how long they could stay together, since adult males battle for territory and females in the wild. He said male polar bears don’t reach sexual maturity until six.And with no females around, these guys should get along for a while.

But I got a taste of what a polar bear fight might be like. Mark and I were throwing the fish into the exhibit in front of an audience of only a few hardy souls.It was, after all,insanely cold. Did they get a show! Nuka is the dominant brother–and he gets fed first. Sometimes he also hoards food in the exibit. But this time, Koda let him have it! I have never heard anything like it. Mark had thrown a fish for Nuka. Koda already had one nearby. Koda must have felt Nuka was getting to close to his fish, and, suddenly, these thunderous roars erupted, and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck..The photo here doesn’t show it, but “the boys” were almost connecting, jaws wide open. Mark says it happens sometimes–but they settle it quickly, and without any real injury. Frankly, I was so proud of Koda for sticking up for himself.

Looks like this is going to be an animal blog, because I also want to express my admiration for Dr. Kenton Rexford and all the vet techs, and other vets, who work at his emergency vet clinic in Shaler. He is so right. You can’t excel in those jobs, unless you enjoy helping people. The staff members probalby spend as much time caring for and comforting the humans as their four-legged patients. The animals brought in so often break your hearts, but so does the emotional upset of their owners.

Speaking of broken hearts–and six degrees of separation. Barbaro was euthanized just over a week after we shot the e-vet story. And two days before the horse’s death, Dr. Rexford and another local specialist, Dr. John Payne, were at the University of Pennsylvania , where they stopped in to see Barbaro. Dr Rexford had studied under Dr. Dean Richardson, the brilliant surgeon who cared for the racehorse.

Both Rexford and Payne said the horse did not look good. When the news broke, a friend of mine called to tell me that a local radio talk show host had been chiding people who called in expressing grief. “It’s just a horse!”, he said. So I phoned Dr. Rexford, and asked him why he thought many of us, even people who are not equine lovers, were so moved. First, he said it was the incredible beauty and athleticism of the animal. Then, there are the mythical qualities humans attach to horses. But, he added, Barbaro’s indomitable spirit, his unquenchable will to live, also made what was a good story– a great one. I told him about the talk show host, and he observed that people love, and grieve, the loss of all sorts of things. Car lovers may cry if they wreck their prize vehicle. Some Steeler fans may weep when the team loses a big game. I’d never thought about it that way. As long as what you love is not destructive, or evil, why should anyone criticize you for it? Just because someone grieves for an animal, doesn’t mean he or she will not also grieve equally–or even more– over other kinds of loss. As ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp so eloquently put it, “Barbaro affirmed our humanity.” Sometimes it takes one of God’s “other” living creations to do that.


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