A Florida mother and son have a bit of an extended family in the form of more than a dozen bears.
Johnny Welde IV said he has been around bears since he was 3 years old, as they have been in his family for 91 years.
Welde and his mother, Monica, spend their days caring for 14 bears, each of which weighs up to 1,000 pounds.
Monica Welde, who owns Bearadise Ranch, said their tradition came under fire last year when Welde’s dad, Johnny III, suddenly died of a heart attack not long after his 60th birthday.
“Last year, we lost my husband, the patriarch of our family, husband, father and grandfather. The love of my life who was devoted to all, including my bears,” Monica Welde told Barcroft TV. “It’s been a huge loss on our family and our bears. I know the bears miss him. They do notice his absence.”
With the help of her son, Monica is concentrating on keeping the family legacy going, and caring for their beloved bears.
Johnny III's grandfather introduced bears into the Welde family back in 1946.
Since then, the animals have appeared in movies for Walt Disney and have been trained for a number of television shows.
“They live on the back of our property behind our main house,” Johnny Welde said. “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 a natural habitat on their land, Monica Welde added.
“They have a spring pond, we have pools, grass, trees.” she said. “And our daily interaction with the bears is communication, loving, petting. They thrive on physical contact.”
Although Monica said she has a few scars from being scratched by the bears due to their size, they have never attacked anyone. They do have plans in place, however, if anything ever goes wrong.
“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.”
Monica is now confident that she will take care of the bears right up until she is no longer physically able to do so. And she has faith in the fact that her son will carry on the Welde family tradition when the time comes.
“I will work with the bears until I grow very old and I feel confident they will be taken care of after I’m gone.”