Imagine if your best friend weighed nearly 1,000 pounds, stood 6 inches taller than basketball star Shaquille O'Neal and wolfed down his own turkey at Thanksgiving. For Casey Anderson, it's a normal part of life with his best bud—Brutus the Grizzly Bear.
In 2002, Casey rescued the 5-month-old cub, who was born into captivity. From that day, an unbreakable bond was formed. "When he was a little baby, I was bottle feeding him, and I looked down in his eyes and he had a little tear in his eye. I just kind of chalked it up for he was straining from sucking on the bottle," Casey says. "Then, several years later, Brutus got a bit of a bellyache, and I was rubbing his belly. And in his eye, he had the same tears. And at that moment I realized that grizzly bears can feel the same emotions we do."
Casey and Brutus' connection is so close that Brutus was best man in Casey's wedding—one of many major life events the pair plan to share together. "Today I'm 33 years old and Brutus is 7, and grizzly bears in captivity can live to be 40," Casey says. "We're going to be old dudes together, and it's really wonderful that I get the opportunity to spend the rest of my life with my best friend."
As a special treat for appearing on The Oprah Show, Brutus gets to eat a few of his favorite foods—like blueberry pancakes, a turkey and avocado sub and salmon!
On a normal day, Brutus eats about 20,000 calories, which averages out to about 35 pounds of food. "He eats salmon, bison, beef, chicken," Casey says. "He likes apples, oranges, lettuce, carrots. He actually peels his own oranges."
Casey says Brutus is also the boss of his eating schedule. "If he looks like he's hungry and wants to eat, we feed him, but it's usually just one big giant meal a day," Casey says.
Despite his close relationship with Brutus, Casey says he never loses sight of the potential danger. "I am very aware that he's a grizzly bear and he could swap my head off with one whack," Casey says. "This connection you see here comes from years of experience and training, and by no means should anybody ever be this close to a grizzly bear, whether it's in the wild or in captivity."
Casey says he always respects Brutus' needs and wants. "He's truly the boss. He dictates his life. If he wants to be up here eating a sandwich, we allow him to do that. If he wants to be out in the sanctuary wrestling with his friends, swimming in his pond, we allow him to do that," Casey says. "We don't cross that line of respect, because when people do that with wild animals, that's when bad things happen."
When Brutus isn't hanging out with Casey, he spends time with other bears at the Montana Grizzly Encounter Rescue and Education Sanctuary—and he even has a girlfriend. "Her name's Shina. She's kind of a tomboy girl," Casey says. "She's a third of his size, but she still pins him down on the grass and kind of shows him that she's the boss. But he loves it."
Bears have a sense of smell stronger than a bloodhound—and Casey says some of the bears get jealous of Brutus if they smell Casey's scent on his fur. "They give him the cold shoulder," Casey says. "Then they realize it's just Brutus, and they're buddies again."
Although bears in the wild hibernate, Brutus doesn't need to. "[They] hibernate for only one reason—and that's because there's no food available during the winter. ... They don't urinate, they don't defecate, they don't drink and they don't eat," Casey says. "Now Brutus—he wants nothing to do with that. Brutus loves to eat and loves to do the other things year-round."
In fact, Casey says Brutus loves the winter. "He goes out and plays in the snow, breaks the ice on his pond, has an ice bath," he says. "Sometimes we even build snowmen for him, and he likes to go out and tear them down."
Casey says it didn't take him long to realize that he needed Brutus as much as Brutus needed him. Casey says Brutus was all the support he needed during a rough breakup. "If I would have went to any of my other friends, they would have given me advice and told me there was other fish in the sea and all these things," he says.
When he went to Brutus, Casey says his bear friend's demeanor changed. "[Brutus is] usually overbearing and a little pushy and wants to play hard, but he could sense that I wasn't feeling well," he says. "He came up to me very gently and nudged me, and he just stood by me unconditionally, and he listened to me, and he was there when I was crying, and that's truly what I needed from him. And so this relationship is a give and take both ways."
If there's anything Casey wants people to learn from his friendship with Brutus, it's that animals and humans can live peacefully together. "Last year, 80 grizzly bears died due to human and bear conflict in the Yellowstone area," he says. "These animals have a value even deeper than we can imagine—all wild things do. So we should try to care more because they're really special. And if we care, we can co-exist peacefully with them."
The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, provides a place for sick and elderly female elephants to retire and roam free. "Every elephant that comes here searches out someone that she then spends most all of her time with," co-founder Carol Buckley says.
Tarra, a 35-year-old Asian elephant, surprised every elephant and human at the sanctuary with the choice of her new best friend—a rescued guard dog named Bella. "Tarra is the one who likes to be different," Carol says. "I think it was Tarra searching out Bella and Bella finding that she could get all of her emotional needs met through this elephant."
The unlikely pair is inseparable. "When it's time to eat, they both eat together. They drink together. They sleep together. They play together," Carol says.
Tarra and Bella's friendship was tested when Bella suffered a back injury. Unable to walk, Bella was confined inside the sanctuary's office. Tarra left her 1,800-acre habitat behind and visited her friend every day for three weeks.
In a moment that became a YouTube sensation, co-founder Scott Blais carried Bella onto the balcony to see her devoted friend. "Bella's tail started wagging, and we had no choice but to bring Bella down to see Tarra," he says.
Today, Bella's back on her feet and happily joined at the hip with Tarra. "Bella knows that she's not an elephant, and Tarra knows that she's not a dog," Scott says. "But it's just a relationship that goes across those boundaries. It exceeds all those. It's just a true friendship."
Still, the path to friendship wasn't always so smooth—Carol says the other elephants initially threw sticks and kicked dirt at Bella. "Bella would just stand her ground and then she'd go over and sit down right next to Tarra, maybe lean on Tarra's leg like: 'I'm here. I'm here to stay,'" Carol says.
No matter what, Bella harbors no hard feelings. "Now that Bella's part of Tarra's little herd and Tarra's clique, Bella will often protect the other elephants also," Scott says.