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Rest in Peace, Yona

I write this with a tired, heavy heart. Saying goodbye to an animal, a friend, or a family member, is never easy, and for me, especially when it is unexpected. We went into Yona’s surgery with the full intention that her issues could be identified, and fixed. However, as day turned into night that was not the case.

At the Museum, a team of eight people from the Vet School did Yona’s physical, radiographs, and ultrasound in the bear house.

Several weeks ago, our animal care specialists noticed that Yona was straining to urinate. We moved her November physical up six months (see photo above), and learned that her urinary and reproductive tracts, in plain speak, “had issues,” so surgery was scheduled for the next week. During surgery, several issues that were identified on ultrasound were tended to, but as the day went on, the discovery of other medical concerns continued. After numerous efforts, and a last long-shot attempt to address and repair Yona’s medical issues, the difficult realization was made that there was no way to “fix” her.

Early Friday morning at The Vet School, the first wave, the anesthesia team, stabilized Yona so the surgery could begin safely.

I walked into the surgery room Friday evening. As my voice cracked and my eyes began to water, I thanked the team who had been working on Yona for longer than anyone had planned and asked them to thank the other 50 or so people who had assisted all day. (Really—no exaggeration on the number of people who were brought in to care for Yona). My day started in the dark, and it would end in the dark driving back to the Museum alone.

Thanks to John Joyner from the Office of Communications and Marketing at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine for this photo

Sadly, this was the last time I would ever take Yona in for care; however, it was not the first. It was in June 2010 that her first visit occurred. She was limping upon arrival at the Museum in early 2010. Tests indicated multiple issues with her right arm. A massive team (yes, another 50+ team) from the Vet School worked wonders, removing fragments of broken bone in her elbow. She did great, and healed well, and a couple of months later, was back in the habitat with the other bears.

Yona arrived in early 2010, at just under a year old. After unsuccessful rehabilitation for release at Appalachian Bear Rescue (the same place Mimi came from) we received the call to provide a forever home for Yona. We met in Johnson City, Tennessee, and Yona, about 90 pounds at the time, was moved to my van and we returned back to Durham well into the evening. Click here to see how small she was when she was found as an orphaned cub and also how small she was (and young I was) when she arrived on the grounds 13+ years ago.

A young Yona… less than a year old

From the beginning, she was an active (her arm issues never stopped her from doing anything) and somewhat silly bear. (Her stubbornness arrived later in her life!) Finding her laying on her back playing with tree limbs, or enrichment toys, and apparently enjoying her time in our habitat were regular sights. Upside-down, feet in the air, was how I would mostly see her in the early years. Actually, on our drive back to Durham in 2010 she was lying on her back, feet up, half rolling in the crate, for the majority of the ride. Even as an adult, sleeping for her occurred regularly with feet up.

an older Yona, snoozing in her primary bed, in her primary position

Gus, like he did recently with Little Bear, would engage with Yona. (“Engage” would mean tolerate at times, but at other times, from my point of view, he was truly positively invested in their relationship). Here’s a picture of Gus and Yona their first time together.

This is not the first RIP post I’ve written, and I know it will not be the last. Knowing what to say and deciding what to write come in waves of both clarity and confusion. Many people want – need – to know different things. What happened, what did you do, tell me the story of the end- beginning-middle, and much more. Since sharing, asking, crying, laughing, yelling, and sitting in quiet, are all part of grieving, I hope that what was shared helps people start to heal. To all who knew Yona, or know the people who cared for her and loved her, may reading this have helped. Condolences. Deep and sincere condolences to all.

Finding Yona in a tree was a common occurrence in her early years at the Museum

So, I end with a confession. As I drove into the Museum parking lot with Yona in January 2010, I decided I did not want to have the discussion about what we should name her, who would name her, how it would be decided, etc. So, I lied. I just lied. I said she already had a name. Yona, the Cherokee word for bear. One of the best decisions I’ve made 😊