All of a sudden, the phone rung so he went ahead and picked it up. But his heart froze after hearing those words. He didn’t even flinch and quickly run to get his coat and run out the door. It was another typical chilly Russian afternoon, but that didn’t stop him. He knew he had to do something fast, as every minute counted. That’s when it hit him. This would be a long hunting season for the Panteleyenkos.
Yury and Svetlana Panteleyenko were an ordinary couple from Russia. They didn’t have any children yet, but they yearned for the day where they’d be able to have their very own bundle of joy. But Yury and Svetlana never imagined they’d end up adopting a pet that was, well, really unusual, (and on top of that, extremely dangerous!).
When a close friend of the couple gave them a call one day, no one could’ve imagined it would end up changing the Panteleyenkos lives forever. Rostislav, a dear friend of the couple, had discovered something that left him bewildered. He had been visiting a local circus when he stumbled upon a bizarre discovery. He knew he needed help, so he called the one and only couple who was so unconventional, they’d probably know what needed to get done. Yury and Svetlana had always wanted to adopt a pet, but an animal this size wasn’t exactly what they were thinking of.
The poor helpless bear cub was crammed in a corner of the circus, all by himself. The other animals around him were shoving each other, trying to eat the crumbs, but that poor little bear didn’t even try to reach for food. “We decided to feed the animals with bread, but one cub was not even allowed to approach the crumbs – he was beaten and shoved by the other cubs,” Svetlana recalls. “So he sat in the corner, the skinniest and most downtrodden of them all.” But then, the bear did something that would make Svetlana melt.
“The cub saw my husband and ran to him, stuck to his earlobe, and began to rub [himself] on him,” she remembers. “That’s when we realized that we had to save the cub and took him with us.” Yury and Svetlana wasted no time and approached the owner of the circus. They had one mission, and one mission only, but that’s when they found out about the poor cub’s story.
The bear cub was left to fend for himself after some evil poachers shot his mother. A few elk hunters had stumbled into quite a heartbreaking sight — the poor bear cub and his baby siblings were stranded in the woods, all alone. They were starving and needed help. But they didn’t know what to do with them, so they took them to a circus that just happened to be in town. Sadly, that would prove to be one big mistake.
The baby bears weren’t adapting to their new life at the circus for several reasons. For starters, their new owners weren’t feeding them an appropriate diet. So soon enough, they were left malnourished, and fragile. The little one was doing the worst. He was dangerously skinny, and his teeth were rotten as a result of a poor diet. The cub was slowly getting worse day by day.
Yury and Svetlana were pretty much heaven sent. They started feeding and nursing the bear back to health, and they even had a name for him! They named the cub Stepan. Now his life had done a complete 180, going to regular checkups at the vet, and getting bottle-fed every 3 hours. He was getting better and better, but the poor little cub wasn’t out of the woods yet. Plus, the Panteleyenkos didn’t realize they’d still have a lot of hurdles to jump through.
This magnificent creature started getting bigger and bigger, and soon enough, he weighed around 700 pounds! Not only was he getting enormous, but he would eat 55 pounds of fish, veggies, eggs, and fruits every single day. He was so massive, that Yury and Svetlana had to build a compound outside, as he could barely fit inside their home. But they were still worried about something else. They knew it’d eventually come back to disrupt everything, and one day, their fear became a reality.
They heard a knock on the door, and when they opened it, they stumbled upon two men dressed in hunting gear. Yury was terrified of something happening to his beloved Stepan. It was hunting season, so he knew the poor bear could’ve met his untimely death by accident. He looked at the hunters and soon enough, he felt a knot in his stomach.
The two hunters started to talk, but Yury couldn’t concentrate on a single word they said. They went ahead and introduced themselves. They proceeded to say their names — Erast and Alexander — but Yury still didn’t understand what was going on. If something happened to his precious bear, he would be so crushed. He kept playing the worst scenarios in his mind, not knowing why these two strangers were at his door. What if Stepan had run away and hurt a local? He was a wild beast after all, right?
Yury was fearing the worst, but then, Alexander said something that completely changed the mood. These two strangers were in fact, Stepan’s rescuers…so to speak. Erast and Alexander were the ones who had found the poor cub and his siblings all alone in the woods. But after they left them at the circus, they went back to pay them a little visit and found out that Stepan had been adopted by the Panteleyenkos. The wasted no time and found their address to pay the bear a little visit.
Yury couldn’t be more relieved! He quickly called Svetlana, and together, they informed the men about everything that went down at the circus, and how the poor animals had been mistreated. Erast and Alexander were astonished, to say the least. Thankfully, the other cubs had been relocated after a few circus-goers realized they weren’t being taken care of. Now it had been a full year since the hunters had rescued Stepan, and they were dying to see him.
When Erast and Alexander laid eyes on Stepan, they just couldn’t believe it. They had to do a double take to understand that this gigantic beast was, in fact, the very same baby bear they found lying in the woods all by himself. This magnificent creature could’ve torn them all to pieces, but he was nothing but a giant teddy bear. Svetlana then told the men that Stepan absolutely loved to be pet and hugged, like a giant kitty cat. Plus, he was used to eating dinner with them at the table!
Stepan was in good hands indeed. Yury and Svetlana even took the time to groom him properly, by brushing and bathing him regularly, as if he were their own child. The couple had even trained Stepan, and now he was modeling for photoshoots, and had even gone to appear in a few movies. He’s a docile loving creature who loves to be around people, and that includes little kids!
23 years after this beautiful creature came into their lives, the Panteleyenkos say he’s been getting more and more docile with time. They’re 100% confident that this loving creature could never harm anyone. “We do not train him, but instead educate him on how to play,” Svetlana shared. “For 23 years, we have not had a single case where he roared or rushed at us.”
When the Panteleyenkos were finally ready to get married, they obviously had to include their furry son, Stepan. After all, they had raised him and he was part of the family too. The couple hired a professional photographer who captured some magical images that looked like they came straight out of a fairy tale. And there he was, a gigantic bear presiding over the marriage. Soon enough, Stepan’s social media pages were flooded by loving comments. No one could believe a giant bear could be that docile and friendly, but not everyone was on board.
There were a lot of commenters who completely disagreed with the Panteleyenkos decision to domesticate a wild creature. Some haters even claimed the couple had lied about how they came to find Stepan, saying they must’ve found the cub in the woods and kept it for their own selfish reasons. But the Panteleyenkos know they’ve done what they thought was best for poor little Stepan.
Among the skeptics, Lisa Wathne shared her own personal views on the matter, and she knows what she’s talking about. She’s a captive exotic animal specialist for the Humane Society of the United States. She said, “Obviously, this bear is a huge animal, he’s a wild animal, despite this couple’s claim. Having a bear live in your home is not how an animal is domesticated.”
Wanthe isn’t so sure that domesticating Stepan was the best choice for him, and feels the couple is sending the wrong message. She claimed the Panteleyenkos ,“encourage other people to think they can do the same, have bears as pets, and continue this horrible cycle of cruelty.” Despite her professional opinion, it’s clear that Stepan seems to be happy and well-taken care of, but he pretty much seems to be a rare exception. Wild animals are meant to live in their natural habitats, so here’s hoping their decision to live with a wild animal doesn’t come back to bite them in the end!