‘Lil’ Smokey’ fighting to recover from burned paws
July 22, 2008
Veterinarian Kevin Willitts gently unwrapped bandages Monday from the paw of a bear cub, carefully treating the 6-month-old bruin’s burns.
All four of the cub’s paws have severe second- to third-degree burns, with the outside toe missing on all four feet.
The cub – who has been named Lil’ Smokey – arrived Friday at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care from Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Adam Deem, a firefighter with the state fire agency, rescued the bear after finding him alone and injured at the Moon fire, one of more than 2,000 recent California blazes.
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC) raises, rehabilitates and releases injured or orphaned animals, and is the only center in California that can rehabilitate cubs and release them into the wild.
And this little bear cub has quite the battle in front of him.
“The question is – is there any pad tissue? And it’s one we can’t answer right now,” said Willitts, who owns Alpine Animal Hospital.
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If the cub doesn’t have pad tissue, it won’t be able to survive in the wild.
“You can’t just graft it,” said Willitts, who treated the cub Monday at LTWC.
As with all burns, Willitts said they have to wait and see what tissue is going to live or die.
Currently, they are trying four different known burn treatments, such as honey, silver sulfadiazine and hydrocolloid wound dressing, to see if any one of them works better than the other. They must keep the dressings clean and help the healing process the best they can for the next few weeks.
LTWC co-founder Tom Millham said when he picked up the bear from Rancho Cordova, many were predicting the care center would get a lot of phone calls.
They were correct.
“When I got back, Cheryl (Millham, Tom’s wife and LTWC co-founder) said the phones had been ringing off the hook,” Tom Millham said.
Tom Millham said he has received e-mails from all over the country, including Ithaca, N.Y., Massachusetts and Virginia. Because of the national exposure, he said LTWC has received more than $1,200 in donations.
“People definitely want to help,” Millham said.
Millham said they have two bears besides Lil’ Smokey that weigh 35 to 40 pounds. The burned cub weighs 8 1/2 pounds. Most wild cubs are between 20 to 30 pounds.
Willitts said they have seen cubs at the same ages in all different sizes. Depending on their diet and whether a mother bear must provide for two cubs adds variables to this outcome.
Millham said this is the third bear they have treated for burns, but the first cub. After the Angora fire, they treated one in the wild, and she healed well. The other bear had third-degree burns on all its paws and maggots inside the wound, and it had to be euthanized.