Family gets to cuddle with Vernon’s most notorious and awfully cute visitors, By Claudia Caramiello Vernon Barbara Martin cradled the newborn in her arms, gazing with amazement into its large dark eyes. Around her was a buzz of activity as cameras clicked, and friends and family looked on with warm smiles and fascination. Martin, thrilled to be in the presence of this new life, lovingly stroked the newborn’s dark, glossy fur. Yes, fur. Martin, and her husband Bill, residents of Sussex County their entire lives, had the thrilling experience of holding three newborn bear cubs who had been hibernating with their mother underneath the deck of the Martins’ home in the Pleasant Valley section of Vernon. The story began back in January, when Barbara kept hearing a faint whining sound whenever she ventured to the freezer, which was kept out on the couple’s deck. She informed her husband Bill about the odd sound and he calmly told her not to worry. It was “most likely cats.” Fast forward a few months to spring, on a pleasant Saturday when Barbara decided it was a perfect day to do some spring cleaning out on the deck with her dog, Max. Max began to get agitated, sniffing and barking, then suddenly came the loud angry growl from beneath the deck. “I ran back into the house and yelled to my husband: 'Honey, you better come outside because that is no cat under the deck!’” Bill grabbed a flashlight and followed a worried Barbara outside, peered under the deck and declared, “Well, let me tell you, it’s got two big eyes and it’s definitely NOT a cat. I think it’s a bear.” Fuzzy surprise The Martins called a neighbor who is a park ranger to confirm that the animal living under their deck for the past winter was indeed a bear. A wildlife expert was then called in and revealed the second part of the surprise three adorable female cubs, two which weighed in at around 11 pounds, and the runt of the litter weighing only 5 pounds. A representative from New Jersey Division of Fish Game and Wildlife was able to temporarily sedate the mother bear to perform a series of tests, do bloodwork, tag and weigh the bear, and even pulling a tooth to determine the age of the mother. She is 5. During the sedation of the 189-pound mother, the Martins, along with their grown children, friends and neighbors, were able to hold, cuddle and interact with the cubs for three hours, taking pictures and enjoying a once in a lifetime experience. “We have been in this house for 14 years; we have had bears around all the time and are very used to living in bear country,” said Bill Martin. “But we have never experienced anything close to this.” Barbara echoed that amazement as she described what it was like to hold the cubs. “They were so adorable, if I could have kept one I would have,” she said. “They all had distinct markings on them; one had a little white chest, and I learned that it is possible that all three cubs could be from different fathers; I never even heard of that,” she said. More surprises After the excitement of interacting with the cubs, the Martins were surprised to learn that the state wildlife expert would return the cubs and the mother back under the deck, but not before putting a smear of mentholated rub on the mother’s nose, which would allow for the scent of humans on the babies to go undetectable, thus, allowing for the mother to accept and nurture her babies. The Martins were given assurance that the mother would take her cubs and leave the deck, which had been the bears home all winter. The final surprise came the next morning when Barbara heard crying under the deck once again. She was shocked to discover that the mother bear had indeed left, yet she left behind her one diminutive cub. Once again, Fish, Game and Wildlife were called and the little cub was taken to a bear rehabilitation center. “They told us it was a good thing the mother left her behind because she really was underweight and could have died,” explained Barbara. “By leaving the weaker one behind, the mother was able to ensure the safety of the other two healthier cubs,” she adds, “I do wonder how that little cub is doing.” The Martins are grateful for their experience with the bears, despite being initially shocked at what was living under the deck. They also find they have learned a great deal about the animals. “I was surprised that these cubs were so clean, there was no smell. It was as if they had been bathed,” said Bill. “You would think living under that deck all winter there would be a smell, and there wasn’t.” He also remarked on the bond between the cubs and the mother. “When they were doing the test on the mom, the one bear got very upset, making crying noises and fidgeting, she became quite the little bugger.” Barbara and Bill Martin also share a chuckle whenever they think about the comment of a Fish, Game and Wildlife worker as he began pulling out the three cubs from under the deck. “He checked them and then said, 'Uh-oh, you’ve got yourself three girls,’” laughed Bill.
Safety reminders The Martins want people to be aware of the danger of being in close proximity to a mother bear, and to always respect nature. Holding a newborn cub is not safe unless the mother is sedated and in a controlled environment. “Bears are not as bad as people make them out to be, but a mother bear can rip you to shreds,” Bill Martin adds. “Do not touch the cubs if you see them.” Barbara agrees. “It is nature. Of course they will defend their children, like we defend our own children.”