By Danny Baggott @Dan_Baggie
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Videographer / Director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Danny Baggott, Ruby Coote
Editor: Ian Phillips
At Point of View Farm in West Virginia, 74-year-old Joel lives with five black bears and can go months on end without seeing another human being.
Joel has been rescuing wild bears for the past seven years, raising them inside his house and protecting them in hunting season.
And now, he has developed such a close relationship with the animals, he can regularly take them for hikes in the forest, hand-feed them and sleep in their enclosures.
Joel said: “Nothing in this world – not sex, not food, not a good night sleep can top going for an hour hike with a bear.
“Nobody else in the world can do this, nobody else in the world does this.
“I take naps with them, we play in the house, we get fed in the house and as they grow – they move to larger facilities outside.
“It’s really special to be able to hike around with two or three bear cubs that are just following me. I really have to pinch myself all the time because I can’t believe I’m doing this – that I have this relationship with these animals.”
The first bear came into Joel’s care in 2009 and people often contact him when they find injured or abandoned animals in the hope that he will take them in.
Once the hunting season has passed and the bears are old enough, Joel releases them back into the wild.
Joel said: “They don’t go off and become a nuisance, they don’t break into people’s homes, they don’t attack people – they just go off and become wild bears which is exactly what they are genetically programmed to do.
“I consider bears to be very, very safe but all the statistics bail that out, regardless of anything that I am prejudiced about.
“In North America over the last 100 years plus, I believe that there are 60 or 70 documented cases of black bears actually killing anybody.
“I have never been attacked by a bear. I mean we are talking about a 200 or 300 pound animal that is stronger than 10 human beings and quicker than a rattle snake and yet here I am as the doting mother trying to discipline a huge linebacker.”
Joel predominantly feeds his bears with meat, but does treat them now and then to some peanut butter.
Living on the deserted side of a large river can result in Joel being on his own with his animals for weeks, if not months.
“I’m the only one living on this side of the river for miles,” he said.
“I live all alone. I live miles from the nearest human being and I am a happy camper.
“I want the bears to get used to me, I want them to become bound to me so that we have this special relationship which makes the entire process of raising them and eventually releasing them a lot easier.
“I prefer any animal to humans!”
After owning 20 bears over the years, Joel does struggle with the thought of them being hunted and killed.
He said: “My guess is that almost all of them have been killed by hunters.
“It’s very, very cruel. It’s not just a matter of shooting and making a clean kill on a bear. It’s barbaric in a way.
“I try to separate my emotions from it.”
Joel’s unique relationship with his bears has attracted a great response from animal lovers keen to keep up to date with his journey.
“I get a lot of attention on my Facebook page,” he added.
“There are people from all over the world who now follow the exploits that happen here at Point of View Farm.
“There is no doubt that my caring for, interacting with and releasing bears into the environment has been very, very special.
“I mean I’m 74-years-old now. This is the combination of my lifelong dream – to have a place like this and it’s all happening.
“I have been very lucky in regards to the activation of this dream.”