'Meatball' merchandise may have hit a snag

Like other celebrities, “Meatball” -- the Glendale bear that nosed through trash cans and caused a ruckus in the foothills earlier this year -- has found value in his brand, or at least his handlers have. 

Let the merchandising begin. 

Bummed you never got close enough to the furry, now-500 pound bear before he was caught — twice — until being carted off to an animal sanctuary near San Diego? How about a “huggable lock of his furry fur”? It also comes with a blue paint paw print and an orange wildlife tag that California officials pierced in his ear. 

It could end up being all be yours via a successful bid on EBay -- that is, if officials at the California Department of Fish and Game allow the sale to go forward.

Lions, Tigers & Bears — the San Diego County wildlife sanctuary that is now caring for the once-wild bear — put the package of “Meatball” memorabilia up for auction as part of an effort to raise $250,000 for a new habitat. 

At one point Wednesday, bidding had hit $510 before falling back into the $100-range.

But it wasn't long before the sanctuary pulled it down. By 5 p.m.,  the item was "no longer available" according to EBay.

It was not immediately clear why the item had been removed, but according to Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game,  "The sale of bear parts is illegal in California and DFG is investigating."

He told the Los Angeles Times that selling the ear tag and paw prints was likely legal, but selling the locks of fur was questionable.

Attempts to reach a spokeswoman for the sanctuary, Jennifer Jenkins, could not be reached for comment by the L.A. Times after the package had been taken off EBay.

But earlier in the day, she said the auction was the brainchild of the facility's founder, Bobbi Brink, who was inspired by Meatball's popularity in social media and international press. 

“She thought someone might want to have a little memorabilia to keep him in mind,” Jenkins said.

T-shirts, buttons and tote bags featuring a cartoonish rendering of Meatball have already generated thousands of dollars for his new enclosure — a retail operation started by Glendale resident Sarah Aujero, who also had a big hand in the bear's social media life by starting a Twitter handle in his name.

The sanctuary needs to raise $145,000 more to hit their fundraising target. 

The auction items were collected when Meatball was sedated last week during a medical checkup. He was neutered, too — a standard practice since Lions, Tigers & Bears is a no-breed facility.

A microchip was also implanted under his skin for tracking. 

In addition to the fur that's gone up for bid, his hair was to be displayed at the facility's children's educational center. The clippings come from his back, chest and front leg.

Meatball was taken to the wildlife sanctuary in August after twice being relocated deep inside Angeles National Forest. Each time he returned, causing a media circus that eventually ended when a state game warden employed honey, bacon and McDonald's French fries to trap him for his final journey.

The planned four-acre habitat includes a water fountain, trees and open space. The facility has a similar one occupied by four other bears. Meatball can't stay in the existing sanctuary because licensing requirements call for one acre per bear. 

If the auction doesn't go through, Meatball fans can still take heart: the sanctuary plans to roll out a Meatball Christmas tree ornament in time for the holidays on its website for $5.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

-- Brittany Levine and Jason Wells, Times Community News

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World