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Glendale News Press

Miss 'Meatball'? He's available online, a piece of him, anyway

3:54 PM PST, November 7, 2012

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Like other celebrities, “Meatball” -- the famous Glendale bear that nosed through trash cans and caused ruckus in the foothills earlier this year -- has found value in his brand, or at least his handlers have.

Let the merchandising begin.

Bummed you never got close enough to the furry, now-500 pound ursine before he was caught — twice — until being carted off to an animal sanctuary near San Diego? How about a “huggable lock of his furry fur”? It also comes with a blue paint paw print and an orange wildlife tag that California officials pierced in his ear. And it can all be yours via a successful bid on EBay.

At one point Wednesday, bidding had hit $510.

Lions, Tigers & Bears — the San Diego County wildlife sanctuary that is now caring for the once wild bear — has put the package of “Meatball” memorabilia up for auction as part of an effort to raise $250,000 for a new habitat.

The package deal too expensive for your taste? The sanctuary plans to roll out a Meatball Christmas tree ornament in time for the holidays on its website for $5.

The auction was the brainchild of the facility’s founder, Bobbi Brink, who was inspired by Meatball’s popularity in social media and international press.

“She thought someone might want to have a little memorabilia to keep him in mind,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a Lions, Tigers & Bears spokeswoman.

T-shirts, buttons and tote bags featuring a cartoonish rendering of Meatball have already generated thousands of dollars for his new enclosure — a retail operation started by Glendale resident Sarah Aujero, who also had a big hand in the bear’s social media life by starting a Twitter handle in his name.

The sanctuary needs to raise $145,000 more to hit their fundraising target.

The auction items were collected when Meatball was sedated last week during a medical checkup. He was neutered, too — a standard practice since Lions, Tigers & Bears is a no-breed facility.

A microchip was also implanted under his skin for tracking.

In addition to the fur that’s gone up for bid, his hair will also be displayed at the facility’s children’s educational center. The clippings come from his back, chest and front leg.

Meatball was taken to the wildlife sanctuary in August after twice being relocated deep inside Angeles National Forest. Each time, he returned, causing a media circus that eventually ended when a state game warden employed honey, bacon and McDonald’s French fries to trap the ursine for his final journey.

At first, California officials had planned to send him to a much larger facility in Colorado. Having just housed a bear earlier this summer, Lions, Tigers & Bears didn’t have a permanent home for Meatball.

But citing a state regulation, Colorado officials blocked Meatball’s move, leaving the bear stuck in a 15-by-20 foot cage usually used as a quarantine facility until a larger habitat could be constructed.

California officials have said the bear, which is estimated to be 5 or 6 years old, could not be released back in the wild because he was acclimated to human food.

“We do need the rest of that funding to construct the rest of the habitat and get him out there into the open,” Jenkins said.

The planned 4-acre habitat includes a water fountain, trees and open space. The facility has a similar one occupied by four other bears. Meatball can’t stay in the existing sanctuary because licensing requirements call for one acre per bear.

To bid on the items, search “Meatball bear” on EBay.

-- Brittany Levine, Times Community News

Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.