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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

UK dental team returns to India to give more rescued bears a pain-free future

Dentist Paul Cassar and his team operate on a bearA dentist and a specialist dental vet who carried out pioneering surgery on rescued dancing bears last year have made a second trip to India to ease the pain of more bears.

Dentist Paul Cassar is a trustee of IAR. Last November Paul and dental vet Lisa Milella volunteered their time to carry out root canal work and other major dental treatment on some of the bears. They also trained Indian vets at the Agra sanctuary to enable them to treat other bears with similar problems in future. From the moment they examined the mouth of their first patient, a grumpy bear called Anthony, they knew that their work would transform the lives of those bears that were in agony from the state of their teeth and gums.

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 festering wounds are left untreated by the Kalandar nomads who use the bears to beg money from tourists.

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 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 when the ropes were removed from their noses. After his first trip to the sanctuary, Paul Cassar commented: "This entire trip has been the most amazing and memorable experience for me. It has been a privilege to help IAR, of which I am proud to be a trustee, in this very special and worthwhile way."

However, both Paul and Lisa were frustrated that they didn't have time to treat more bears during their trip, even though they were operating until the early hours of every morning. Lisa said "I can’t help thinking of the bears that we have left untreated. 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 just wish we could have stayed longer and set more bears on the road to recovery." Now Lisa and Paul have given up more of their time to go back to India and treat the bears they left behind.

Alan Knight, CEO of International Animal Rescue, said: "We can’t thank Paul and Lisa enough for making this trip not once but twice. Their commitment is making a real difference to the bears’ lives. Their reward will be to see their patients living free from pain and know that it is thanks to their own skill and dedication."

The dental work on the bears is producing vital new information about their health and behaviour. Once they have recovered from the effects of the surgery and the anaesthetic, the change in them is immediately obvious. They are more lively and alert, exploring their surroundings and eating their food with new zest and enthusiasm. Alan Knight concludes: "It is heartening to see the improvement in them, but also shocking to think of the pain and discomfort they have been suffering during all those years as dancing bears. Thank goodness we now have Paul and Lisa to help them. They will both be paying another visit to the sanctuary later in the year to continue their groundbreaking work."