By RICH FOLEY
For the first time in several years, I’m not spending this week in Missouri helping my Aunt Sue celebrate her birthday. Her death in March changed family plans for a party and trip to the top of the St. Louis Arch tomorrow in honor of her turning 100 years old. Some of us found other, charitable things to do with our time. Some of us, not so much.
My sister and niece Shannon just returned from a two week trip to Africa with a church group. They spent most of their time helping underprivileged children, but did get to make a trip to a wildlife refuge and see an assortment of rare and exotic animals. I, on the other hand, went to Adrian last Saturday and saw a chili dog-eating bear.
The advertisement for the bear’s appearance at an Adrian business mentioned something about the bruin being famous for eating chili dogs. Co-worker Jeff immediately asked if it was the bear that defeated Takeru Kobayashi, the human chili-dog eating champion, in an eating challenge.
Sometimes it troubles me that Jeff seems to have a never-ending storehouse of irrelevant knowledge, but the facts of his statement were correct, even though the bear he referred to wasn’t the one coming to Lenawee County.
Diamond, a Kodiak bear weighing in excess of 1,000 pounds, ate the 50 hot dogs put in front of him while Kobayashi could only keep down 31 in the same time span. Diamond’s feat gained him a spot in the Fox network special “Man vs. Beast” back in 2003.
The bear that came to Adrian was named Lakota and weighed “only” 850 pounds. Lakota is a cinnamon bear, part of the black bear family, and lives in Ohio when not on the road eating disgusting food and making money for his owner. Instead of an eating champion, Lakota was scheduled to take on teams of policemen and firemen with cash at stake. Lakota, of course, didn’t get to keep any cash, even if victorious. That’s probably a good idea. If I were Lakota, I’d take the cash and pay somebody to find me a new home.
Since I unfortunately had nothing better to do, I decided to go see the bear. When I arrived at the store, shortly after Lakota’s arrival in a truck, I was told the bear was refusing to get out of its travel cage. I can’t say I blamed Lakota. It was a cold day, perfect for hibernating. Instead, they were expecting Lakota to eat bad food and perform for humans.
And why chili dogs, anyway? I hate hot dogs myself and that’s certainly not part of a bear’s natural diet. Why not nuts and berries, some raw fish, or something else a bear would really like? Just because Yogi Bear stole picnic baskets doesn’t mean all bears like human food. Yogi wore a tie and hat, too, but I haven’t noticed anyone trying to force them onto real bears.
After Lakota was coaxed from the trailer and put on display, a sign posted nearby explained that Lakota’s normal diet included lettuce, wheat bread, corn and dog food. The dog food made me feel a bit sad. Wouldn’t you think Purina would make Bear Chow for bears forced to live in captivity? There has to be enough bears in zoos and circuses to make a nutritious, good-tasting bear food profitable.
I was also interested in the fact that the sign said Lakota weighed 720 pounds, not the 850 claimed in publicity for the event. Of course, maybe Lakota weighs closer to the 850 pounds after the eating contest.
I wondered if Lakota had been fed that day, or left unfed and hungry on purpose to put on a bigger show. Maybe I should have sneaked in some bread and lettuce to the sad-looking bruin.
For ten dollars, Lakota’s handlers would take your picture with Lakota. I considered doing it so I could get close enough to slip the poor bear some Rolaids before it was forced to eat hot dogs.
I didn’t stick around to watch the chili dog eating contest. I had too much respect for the noble beast to watch him have to embarrass himself.
Next November, I think I’ll just go to a zoo and feed the bears, if it’s allowed. And no chili dogs, maybe some birthday cake in honor of my Aunt Sue. And then, allow them a long nap. I’m sure that’s what Lakota would want.-November 8, 2006