Among the hundreds of stuffed elk, deer and cougars at this week’s Washington Sportsmen’s Show, one very live bear was attracting a small crowd Wednesday.
Brutus the grizzly bear was lolling around his enclosure next to the ShowPlex on the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup.
A few feet away was his savior, Ami Testa.
Testa rescued Brutus from an illegal breeding program 15 years ago when he was a 2-week-old cub.
Testa co-founded the Montana Grizzly Encounter to house him. It now has five rescued bears at the 2-acre Bozeman, Montana, facility.
“They hang out and play,” she said of her hairy tenants. “They have rocks and ponds.”
Brutus is on display during the Puyallup show, which runs through Sunday.
Testa once held the less-than-foot-long Brutus in her arms.
“The first time his eyes opened, I was feeding him a baby bottle,” she said.
Now, the nearly 900-pound Brutus could hold her in his arms.
As Testa came around the side of Brutus’ enclosure Wednesday, he turned his head to watch her.
Brutus can never be released into the wild, Testa said.
“Any bear born in captivity has no choice but to live in captivity,” she said. “They are born with some instincts but all their survival skills are taught to them by their mothers in their first two or three years.”
Testa can’t teach Brutus how to make a den or catch food.
“I could teach him to fish with a fishing pole better than I could with my mouth,” she said.
Brutus seems adept with both his mouth and his paws (each sporting five 3-inch-long claws.)
On Wednesday, Testa opened the iron gate to Brutus’ enclosure and stood behind an electric fence. Though she can get close to Brutus without fear, she generally doesn’t with the public watching.
“We treat him like family but we respect him like a bear,” she said.
Testa would like to correct the notion that grizzlies are bloodthirsty animals waiting to pounce on hapless hikers.
“They truly don’t want anything to do with us,” she said. “If you follow a few simple rules, you can really avoid any attack from a bear.”
When Testa picked up a bunch of grapes, Brutus immediately opened his mouth, displaying huge fangs. Like a dog catching biscuits, he snatched the grapes with his gaping maw.
But when he missed one, he would delicately roll it along the floor with a paw until he could suck it up.
Brutus has his own IMDB page. He’s appeared in three movies, including “Pretty Ugly People” with Melissa McCarthy. He’s also been on a television series and in many commercials.
Brutus travels from his home to shows and movie shoots in his own trailer.
“If you have a dog that likes to go for car rides, it’s kind of the same thing,” Testa said. “He jumps in.”