Mom and Son Raising 14 Bears in Backyard, Say They're a Part of the Family


Every kid dreams of having an exotic pet. Whether it be a wolf or a lion or a cheetah, we’ve all wanted a special pet to show off and talk about and love. But as we grow up, we know that isn’t actually possible under normal circumstances.

So we console our inner child and settle for staring longingly at the animals in zoos and appreciating them from afar.

After all, they should be able to roam and hunt and be themselves, not cooped up in a house to be a pet, because they just aren’t.

But for some people, that dream comes true. Johnny Welde IV has been around wild animals since he was 3 years old. Bears, to be precise.

His mom, Monica Welde, married his father, Johnny Welde III, and didn’t just marry him. They always say that you’re marrying the family, too.

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But Johnny III’s family wasn’t your typical set of in-laws. His grandfather had introduced bears to the family all the way back in 1946, and they’ve been a huge part of it ever since.

You may be wondering just how they’re doing this, and whether or not it’s legal. Well, it’s called Bearadise Ranch, and they’re licensed to take in bears that need homes if they can’t be released into the wild.

Currently, they have 14 bears ranging from 5 years old to 23. Some they’ve even hand-raised from birth, and others they’ve rescued a few years into life.

But with the sudden loss of the patriarch of their family, Johnny III, to a heart attack shortly after his 60th birthday, things have been tough.

The ranch is in no danger of closing, but they’ve been getting more attention — negative and positive.

When people comment on how they should be in the wild, Monica is quick to point out that the wild is disappearing, and that these bears are safer with her than they are out in the wild, especially if they haven’t ever been in the wild in the first place. They can’t quite fend for themselves if they’ve never learned how, can they?

It’s not as if they’re miserable, either. “They have a spring-fed pond, we have pools, grass, trees,” Monica said. “And our daily interaction with the bears is communication, loving, petting. They thrive on physical contact.”

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Johnny IV said, “They live on the back of our property behind our main house.

“To us, they are very safe. They are not big on strangers, which is understandable. We have raised them, so to us they are very, very sweet.”

The bears have never attacked anyone, including their caretakers. Monica said she has a few scars from their sheer size and power — and clumsiness. “But as far as stitches go, I have worked with bears for 37 years and I have all my fingers so it’s a good track record,” she said.

Monica knows for sure that she will care for and work with these bears until she is physically incapable of it, and by that point, her son will probably be married and have a family to help carry on the tradition.

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