Story by Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer, Video by Kennedy Dendy | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor celebrated its two beloved on-campus bears, Lady and Joy, at a birthday party hosted at the bear habitat on Jan. 27. The party was held on Joy’s 18th birthday, and a few days before Lady’s 17th birthday on Jan 31.
The birthday party took place from 2 to 4 p.m. and featured celebratory activities like bounce houses and corn hole. Decorative balloons and streamers, birthday cake and photo ops with mascots Bruiser and Marigold were also included at the event.
Special presentations were made by Bear Program trainers to give attendees information about Lady and Joy, as well as to offer photo opportunities with the bears, who are trained to throw up “Sic ’ems” on command.
Baton Rouge, La., senior Madison Dillenberger saw a poster promoting the birthday celebration and decided to come out with her friends to celebrate Lady and Joy. She appreciates the unique experience of having living on-campus mascots that she can visit or pass by on a daily basis.
“The bears really bring the Baylor community together,” Dillenberger said. “This space is a great common ground, and I love to come and meet people here or just to see the bears as I’m walking on campus. It’s a cool tradition that Baylor has.”
The bears are cared for through Baylor’s Bear Program, which provides students with training on animal safety and well-being to interact with and take care of the bears on a daily basis. Fort Worth senior John Naya, Katy junior Audrey Chisum and Missouri City senior Audrey Hermes all serve as lead trainers and explained that this year marks the first large-scale birthday celebration for the mascots.
“This is the first time that we’ve had an event that turned out to be this big,” Chisum said. “For the holidays we try and treat the bears to special things — they got Christmas presents and received a Thanksgiving dinner. They usually get some type of birthday surprise as well, but this is the first year their birthday has been this big.”
Naya said that he is able to interact with the bears daily as a trainer, and that he enjoys the personal connection he has been able to form with Lady and Joy.
“On a day to day basis, we see the bears morning and night,” Naya said. “We clean the habitat, do on-campus training and take the bears off-campus to a location where they can roam freely and climb trees. It’s a daily interactive process, which is something I’ve really enjoyed.”
Hermes explained that Lady and Joy’s on-campus training allows the bears to learn new skills that help them to develop mentally and enrich their minds.
“Two or three times a week we have on-campus training for the bears, which is one of the best forms of enrichment where they can be mentally stimulated,” Hermes said. “They learn new behaviors which keeps their minds sharp, and everything they learn are learned behaviors, which are things that are natural to them that they have done on their own. We just put them on a queue for positive reinforcement by handing them food every time they do an action.”
Chisum has appreciated the role she serves as a trainer at Baylor and views the ability to interact and spend time with bears as an incomparable experience, especially for a college student.
“One of the most impactful parts for me has been the reciprocated bond we receive from the bears,” Chisum said. “There’s a false impression that all we do is show up and make their bowls, but when we come to the habitat the bears will approach us and know our voices — when we walk in in the morning their ears will perk up and you can see them stretching. The reciprocation is something I didn’t expect, but it makes the bond so much more impactful. It’s amazing to work with animals that many colleges kids may never be able to see.”