Parting was sweet sorrow for a Saskatchewan man who took care of two orphaned bear cubs for more than a year before releasing them back to the wild.
"The challenge is just starting for them. They have so much to learn," said Mark Dallyn, who operates the Healing Haven Wildlife Rescue Centre in Dorintosh, north of Meadow Lake.
In April 2010, officials told him the cubs' mother tried to get into a house in northern Saskatchewan and was put down.
Conservation officers asked him to see if there was a wildlife facility that could take the black bear cubs.
Dallyn said there were places in B.C. and Ontario that were suitable, but he couldn't take them out of Saskatchewan, so he decided to upgrade his rescue centre to accommodate the bears — a female named Dolly and a male named Danny.
Bears settle in
The centre has cared for many birds and deer over the last decade, but it was a first time for bears.
After doing some research, Dallyn built a chain-link fence enclosure and a den for the bears to hibernate.
He started off bottle-feeding the cubs, then progressed to teaching them how to survive on their own.
He hauled in rotten logs so they could root for ants, blueberry bushes were brought in for them to forage and live fish were put in a tiny pond so they could begin to hunt.
Keeping them wild was a main concern.
Dallyn said his research suggested that as long as he was the only person dealing with the bears, they wouldn't lose their natural shyness around humans.
"As long as you keep people away, they won't get to know the human species," he said. "Anybody else comes along, they will be wild."
After more than a year the bears grew large and eventually he knew they were ready.
"They were in great shape, they had been dewormed, I knew they'd do great. It was time for them to go, time for them to learn how to eat, how to find a den for winter."
Back to the bush
Earlier this month, Dallyn put them in the back of a trailer and drove north. The animals were a little upset about the ride and cried a bit, he said.
When they came to the end of the line and he opened the back, Danny was apprehensive and didn't want to leave right away.
However, his sister came out and barrelled into the bush, Dallyn said, and Danny soon followed.
Dallyn said he learned much about bears during the time he had them.
"The main thing I learned about them is that bears are so misunderstood, he said. "They're gentle creatures, not a mean bone in their body. They just go about their business, they eat mainly plants. They eat very little meat and most of it is bugs."
But will Danny and Dolly survive in the wild?
Dallyn said he's satisfied he did everything he could to prepare them.
"There's just a lot of worry, but I know that even if they don't make it, at least they had the chance to go back to the wild," he said. "It really doesn't get any better than that."