OTISVILLE, N.Y. - Frankie, a 350-pound American black bear native to upstate New York, nearly lost his life after being hit by a car back in 2012. However, Jim and Susan Kowalczik's Orphaned Wildlife Center in Otisville gave Frankie a second chance and nursed him back to good health.
"We own this piece of property here and we wanted to do something nice here," Susan said. "Nice for the community and good for the animals."
Frankie is one of nine bears, 13 opossums, six squirrels, and two rabbits at the Orphaned Wildlife Center, an Orange County nonprofit that takes in injured or unwanted animals.
The Kowalcziks, who have been licensed wildlife rehabilitators for more than two decades, aim to protect and nurture the animals until they're ready to return to a life in the wild.
They told FOX 5 NY that the gentle giants are here to stay because they've already adjusted to life in captivity.
"We want them to stay here for the rest of their lives—live out their life here," Jim added.
While the couple has lived here since 1998, maintaining the sanctuary involves a lot of effort, which is why dedicated volunteers like Johnathan Shelton are eager to lend a helping hand.
"When I'm here, I'm usually in charge of keeping the den clean, inside areas, getting the food ready for the bears and just interacting with them outside," Shelton said. (Story continues below)
Bears in captivity can live to around 35 years but, similar to humans, they often succumb to old age or disease. The Kowalcziks said losing a loved one is arguably the hardest part of the job.
Jim's best buddy Jimbo passed away in April. A video of the pair playing, posted to the sanctuary's YouTube account three years ago, quickly went viral, raking in more than 8.5 million views.
"These guys are honest. So, you don't have to worry about them," Jim said. "There's no false pretenses with them."
Jim said the unconditional love lasts a lifetime.