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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

British dentist brings relief to bears with sore heads

Comic actor Bill Bailey and dentist Paul Cassar with rescued bearA UK dentist has returned to his practice in Chichester after travelling to India and performing groundbreaking surgery on rescued dancing bears.

Dentist Paul Cassar is a trustee of Sussex charity International Animal Rescue (IAR) which rescues bears from the streets of India and rehabilitates them in a sanctuary in Agra, not far from the Taj Mahal. Paul and specialist dental vet Lisa Milella from Walton-on-Thames both volunteered their time to carry out root canal work and other major dental treatment on the bears. They also trained Indian vets at the sanctuary to enable them to treat other bears with similar problems in future.

Dancing bears in India have their teeth smashed off with a hammer when they are only young cubs to make them easier to control and protect their handlers from being bitten. The remaining roots become inflamed and infected, causing intense pain, but the seeping wounds are left untreated by the Kalandar nomads who use the bears to beg money from tourists.

After learning of the problem almost a year ago, Alan Knight, CEO of IAR, enlisted Paul Cassar’s help and Paul went to great lengths to research how best to treat the bears and to acquire the specialist tools for the job. He and Lisa Milella handled some very challenging cases requiring long hours of surgery. The terrible state of the bears' teeth and gums made it painfully clear that their suffering hadn't ended completely when the ropes were removed from their noses. The festering infections in their mouths were undoubtedly still causing them discomfort and pain.

Paul Cassar commented: "This entire trip has been the most amazing and memorable experience for me. It has been a real privilege to help IAR, of which I am proud to be a trustee, in this very special and worthwhile way." Lisa Milella added: "To help these bears that were clearly in some considerable pain has been thoroughly rewarding. I have the utmost respect for the work of the Indian vets at the sanctuary and it has been an honour to assist them in this way. I look forward to continuing to support them via email and telephone and even perhaps with future visits to the facility - in their work to give the rescued bears a pain-free future."

Also visiting the sanctuary while the dentists were there was comic actor Bill Bailey who gave up his time to travel to India and learn about the plight of the dancing bears and the work of International Animal Rescue and Wildlife SOS to rescue them. He described the trip as a "wonderful experience. The dental work was fascinating and it was also very touching to see how much the team of vets and handlers at the sanctuary care about the bears." Bill’s participation in the trip and his ongoing interest in the issue already promises to be a tremendous boost to the charities' joint efforts to raise public awareness of the project.