The black bear is an iconic symbol of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the country. Crowds throng to Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail with the hope of glimpsing them and catching some social media-worthy photos.
But sometimes things don’t always work out for young bears, whether cubs of the year or yearlings after they’ve been chased off by their mothers to handle life on their own four feet. Cubs in crisis do have a hope, however, in Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR).
Now in its 26th year, ABR is a rescue, recovery and care facility for eventually returning orphaned, injured or malnourished cubs to the wild where they belong. Since its founding, ABR has cared for more than 260 bears. ABR coordinates with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) as well as other state wildlife agencies in getting the cubs to them. The UT College of Veterinary Medicine provides medical care for the little darlings. And, it should be duly noted, ABR is not a zoo. The cubs in residence are not on display for the public and are cared for with as little exposure to humans as reasonably possible.
Dana Dodd has been the executive director of the organization since 2017 after joining the board in 2011, then serving as president of the board from 2012-2017. It’s a position she didn’t exactly come to naturally.
“I mean, who doesn’t love bears? But I had no wildlife background at all,” she said. “I worked in computers and sales.”
Now retired after 28 years with IBM, Dodd and her husband (both still officially Nashville residents) purchased a cabin in Townsend years ago. She explained that her father, a biology teacher who for years participated with in the Smoky Mountain Field School, was always asking about the bear rescue in Townsend. Eventually a neighbor (who became a friend) suggested Dodd join the board.
While she didn’t have a wildlife background, what she did bring to the non-profit was business acumen.
“I thought, maybe I can help with that,” Dodd said. “And I love that the bears get a second chance at life.”
The rescue is in perpetual need of monetary donations. While the organization does have an Amazon wish list, monetary and gift card donations help ABR have the funds available to purchase items and pay bills as needed. In many cases it’s a storage and spoilage issue when it comes to food for the cubs, Dodd explained, as the effort is made to provide them with diets similar to what they would eat in the wild, once they’re past the bottle stage.
“We really do try to make purchases as needed and as we have room,” Dodd said. “Beyond that, it’s about having money for routine repairs and maintenance.”
ABR was having a relatively slow time last week, with one resident yearling (Tartan) and one resident cub of the year (Taco). Then on Thursday night, a black bear sow was hit and killed by a car near Gatlinburg. Her three young cubs (Truffle, Thyme and Thistle) are now safe at ABR, after it took hours to catch them, but that’s three more hungry mouths to feed, treatments to buy and vet bills to pay.
And there are the NON-routine repairs, as the case sometimes is. On Monday morning an “intruder” bear breached one level of the outer defenses of the facility, ending up between the two perimeter fences in the security corridor. Though the bear was eventually escorted out, it wasn’t before it did some damage to cloth shielding on the fence. So, more repairs plus figuring out how the intruder got in, apparently undaunted by the hot-wired outer fence.
Dodd recommends that everyone check out Bear Wise for information on how to live responsibly with bears. Go here for more information or to make a donation to ABR. Check out the photos of the current cubs in residence on the ABR Facebook page.