Rose Parade float may aid Glendale bear's habitat

When the woman who helped shine a spotlight on famed bear Meatball first heard the bruin's hometown was trying to raise money for a float in his honor, she worried that the funding could be better spent helping Meatball — also called Glen Bearian — directly.

The beloved bear was uprooted from Glendale last year because of his ongoing trash-eating habits.

The sanctuary that adopted Meatball a year ago still hasn't raised enough money to build him his own habitat. What's wanted is an enclosure that is complete with a water feature and lots of open space. City officials are trying to take advantage of the bear's popularity, seeking donations to cover at least half of a planned $155,000 float featuring an animated model of the 500-pound bear popping out of a trash can.

But then Sarah Aujero, who tweets in Meatball's name and sells merchandise to aid the Alpine shelter where he lives — everything from bear buttons to T-shirts to tote bags featuring a cartoon version of his derriere — started thinking this isn't just any float.

This float will be seen by millions who watch the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on New Year's Day.

"Lots of people will watch the Rose Parade and will love this float," the Glendale resident said. "Only good can come from it."

Aujero's not the only Meatball enthusiast on board with the float fundraising efforts.

Bobbi Brink, founder of Lions, Tigers & Bears, the shelter that took Meatball in, is also supporting the float, despite its price tag, because of the awareness factor.

"We hope it will help other bears by raising awareness about co-existing with wildlife," she said, adding that Lions Tigers & Bears plans to work with the city to help promote fundraising for the float.

Aujero has started her own online fundraising efforts for the float — in addition to the online fundraising she does for Lions Tigers & Bears by selling Meatball merchandise. So far, she's raised only $40 of her $25,000 goal.

The fundraiser is set to run on, a Kickstarter-type site for charitable projects, through Sept. 25.

Aujero is also planning to partner with other community groups to host additional fundraising opportunities for the float. She imagines meatball cooking contests and dinner auctions featuring menus of the bear's favorite foods.

Right now, Meatball is loving avocados and nuts. It's been so hot lately that Lions Tigers & Bears froze some nuts as a treat, but Meatball didn't like the iciness. So he used a small water pool that he loves to sit in to thaw the nuts.

"Not only is he well-taken care of, he's spoiled," said Aujero, who visited the bear a few weeks ago. "He's definitely a lot better off than eating people's garbage."

Meatball's taste for frozen meatballs inspired his moniker. One of the first times he was spotted in Glendale, he was munching on frozen Costco meatballs found in a refrigerator in a resident's garage.

He has also been caught eating kebabs and generally seems to have a taste for human cuisine. A California Department of Fish and Wildlife official lured Meatball into a cage using bacon, honey and McDonald's French fries before driving him from the foothills to Alpine. His popularity meant that he was taken to the sanctuary rather than killed.

Wildlife officials had twice tranquilized him and sent him deep into the Angeles National Forest, but he still found his way back to the foothill neighborhoods.

When Meatball came to Lions Tigers & Bears, he was excreting pieces of plastic bags from all the trash he'd been consuming. But that's no longer a problem since coming to the sanctuary, where he's gained about 100 pounds.

City officials have so far raised $12,761, $10,000 from Holland Partners, a developer building several apartment complexes in downtown, and the rest from community donations. While the developer handed over the cash prior to the city unveiling Meatball as the star of the float, the announcement last month prompted a rush of community donations.

The City Council has set aside $155,000 for the float, which will be Glendale's most expensive in years. It's also the city's 100th entry into the parade.

But city officials want to backfill at least half the $155,000 with donations. To spark larger donations, they're handing out raffle tickets for a chance to ride on the float during the parade to those who donate $25 or more.

At the same time, Lions Tigers & Bears is $80,000 away from the $300,000 it needs to build a new habitat for Meatball. With its current 4-acre site occupied by other bears, Meatball will get his own fenced-off area that he may share with other bears saved by the shelter.

The sooner he moves, the better, too. He doesn't get along with his neighbor, a male bear named Sugar Bear, probably because he was a lone bear in the wild, said Jen Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the sanctuary.

Sanctuary officials are confident they can fill the gap soon, she said.

Aujero is optimistic, too.

"I think the float can help," she said.


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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