Grizzly struts his stuff at Harford pharmaceutical firm

His soft brown image has graced the cover of National Geographic. He's a perennial on wildlife calendars, the star in several public service spots to promote bear safety and the mascot for a line of hunting apparel. His is the furry face producers and advertisers turn to when they need a teeth-baring, menacing grizzly.

But at 15, Brody the bear is approaching middle age and dealing with arthritis, which could sideline his career. A pharmaceutical company in Harford County has developed a nutritional supplement for horses that is helping the 1,400-pound Kodiak bear move painlessly and with more agility, his trainer, Jeff Watson, said. Brody prefers his twice-daily Cosequin covered in spaghetti sauce and spread on whole-wheat bread.

To thank Nutramax Laboratories personally, Watson drove Brody 700 miles from his home base in Indiana to the Edgewood company for a private show Wednesday.

Since Brody never left his 26-foot-long cage, the meet and greet with a few hundred employees was confined to the company parking lot. Watson used food to coax the animal into performing, knowing Brody could smell savory fried chicken, his on-the-road fare.

"He knows the food is gonna get good," Watson said. "Eating is his favorite pastime."

Watson contacted Nutramax after using its product, and the company invited him to visit. It was his idea to bring along the bear that he has trained since Brody was a 2-month-old, 10-pound cub. He wanted to demonstrate the bear's increased mobility since taking the supplement, he said, and Brody travels well.

He has appeared on "Good Morning America," the "Tonight Show" and with Chuck Norris and Chris Matthews.

Chris Glase, Nutramax director of corporate services, told the approximate 240 employees a grizzly would be in their midst for the day and quickly squelched several requests for in-cage meetings. A few employees brought children from home and others videotaped Brody for kids who could not miss school. Nathan Schuckmann, 8, who was visiting with family on their way home to St. Louis, took dozens of photos.

"I will remember Edgewood," he said, planning to switch his tiger sweatshirt for a bear one, in honor of his new favorite animal.

Brody stood to his nearly 8-foot stature and dropped his jaw to reveal fearsomely sharp teeth all for the promise of poultry, fried and raw. The audience applauded loudly as the bear offered his paw and shook his head for more treats. Watson was ever wary of the yellow jackets nearby. A bee sting, say on that long tongue, can quickly alter any bear's good humor and provoke a powerful, hurtful reaction, like a swat at the nearest object — most likely the trainer.

In the course of an hour, the bear went through 50 pieces of fried chicken and countless pounds of raw chicken — bones and all. He was offered thick raw carrots, which Brody eschewed and ultimately sat on. After his hefty meal, he took a siesta.

"I think he just ate half a Perdue farm and then laid down for a little nap," said Kirsten Dresser, a sales associate. "I love the way he curls his toes and puts a paw across his face."

Sometimes people see Brody as an overgrown pet, Watson said.

"I just want a little bear hug," said Jeannie Willems, a licensed veterinary technician. "As long as Jeff is right there in the cage, I would get in there with them."

His audience gushed over Brody's lustrous brown coat, his soft amber eyes, curved ears and his slightly upturned nose. "He is a touch magnet," Watson said, as he restricted access to the cage.

When Watson placed his head inside that gaping ursine mouth and rode briefly on Brody's back, he may have enforced that docile teddy bear image the public loves.

"If bears could be domesticated, a lot of people would want one," he said. "He might look cute and cuddly, but he is a tough, wild animal and an opportunistic feeder."

Watson had spread Brody's portfolio across several tables. An impressive resume includes movies like "Grizzly Park" and "The Li'l River Rats," TV and countless commercial credits.

"Does Brody have a girlfriend?" one woman asked.

"No, no family ties," Watson said. "He is taking applications but, for now, prefers to stay focused on his career."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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