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January 02, 2019 03:45 PM

What a difference a year makes!

It was a warm and fuzzy Christmas this year for Eve the “bare bear.” In 2017, the approximately 3-year-old American black bear was found dumpster diving on Christmas Eve in a very poor state. Rescued by the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Eve has been slowly fighting off her skin infection throughout 2018, but is now a whole new — and furrier — bear. Eve’s care team hoped they’d be able to eventually return her to the wild, unfortunately her compromised health and habituation to humans means that sanctuary life is more appropriate for her welfare. In 2019, the now-transformed bear will move to the Black Beauty Ranch, operated by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) affiliate The Fund for Animals, in Texas.

PEOPLE spoke to Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the HSUS, as well as Matthew Anderson, Director of The Fund For Animals Wildlife Center, to learn more about Eve’s sad history — and fortunate future.

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“When Eve first arrived she was emaciated and entirely hairless because of an extreme case of mange, a skin disease caused by mites,” says Anderson. “As her growth had been stunted because of the illness and a lack of food, it was first assumed that she was a yearling cub who had been orphaned. Following a comprehensive veterinary examination the level of wear on her teeth suggested that she was somewhat older … we now think she is between three and four years old.”

Block tells PEOPLE that up until very recently, Eve’s rescuers and the HSUS team were hopeful the orphaned animal could be released back to her native habitat. Basing their assessment on continual tracking of her hair regrowth and health, as well as closely evaluating her behavior to determine what was “normal” for bears in the wild, her human care staff were able to assess where she is on the road to recovery. Currently, Eve is exhibiting characteristics of a wild bear, which demonstrates just how far she’s come thanks to their care. But that’s not quite the end of the story.

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“Unfortunately, it appears the time she spent raiding dumpsters in urban environments resulted in her not being too afraid of people,” says Block. “That, coupled with lack of a proper full fur coat which makes cold weather, hibernating and interactions with other bears and wildlife problematic, forced us to make the difficult decision that she is not suited for survival on her own in the wild.”

Although The Fund For Animals Wildlife Center staff purposely tried not to interact with Eve when she was a patient with the hope she could be released back into the wild, now that they’ve made the decision for her to go to a sanctuary next spring, they’re allowing her to slowly grow more comfortable with her primary human caregivers. “Though she is still skittish with strangers … she has responded extremely well to [the new people] in her daily life,” says Anderson, “and even appears to look forward to her new training sessions which means future health checks will be a breeze.”

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Anderson describes Eve as “a feisty bear,” and believes she’ll remain animated and active for the rest of her life despite her compromised health. When she first arrived to the Fund For Animals Wildlife Center, she was weak and “her true self was not yet revealed.” But Anderson says it didn’t take long for Eve to show her colorful personality. “Eve is a real character who loves to explore her habitat and especially loves to fully investigate anything new that we present to her,” he says.

The playful bear has fun with all of her enrichment toys, but her favorite is her Jolly ball, which she loves to push around her habitat. “She even takes it with her when she’s taking a dip in her pool. Most recently, we have also been hiding food in higher up places and she has been enjoying climbing to collect them. She is extremely agile and makes getting even the most hidden treats look easy.”

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Indeed, Eve has impressed and entertained her caregivers with her many demonstrations of agility. During a summer of consecutive heatwaves, they worried about how she would handle the excessive temperatures. “To help with this we made sure the pool in her habitat was always full of fresh, cool water,” Anderson tells PEOPLE. “By using hidden cameras, [we] were able to see just how much she enjoyed it.”

Not only did Eve expertly navigate the pool, further inspection of the camera footage revealed that she also loved the sprinklers in her habitat. “She gleefully plays in the spray, swiping at it with her paws and letting the water cool her whole body down.”

Anderson explains that these activities were important in that they showed she could have fun with any aspect of her habitat. However, one thing Eve currently lacks is a play mate. Block says that once she moves to the Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, she’ll be “on her own to mimic” how she would live in the wild.

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“Bears are mostly solitary in nature,” Block tells PEOPLE. “Bears who are not releasable often do well sharing their home – having a companion can enrich their lives, in many respects. There are already two bears residing at the sanctuary, after being retired from life in a traveling bear show. Time will tell if another bear of Eve’s size and approximate age will need our help, so the option is always there that she may have another join her in the future.”

Although Eve is capable of having cubs, it is unlikely that she’ll become a mama bear one day. “As a sanctuary, we do not breed animals living at Black Beauty or at our other affiliated sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers,” explains Block. “We want to utilize every available space and resource for animals in need.”

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Resources for Eve and other animals like her are important. A bear can cost around $500 a week to care for. “Along with the myriad of expensive medical treatments received, Eve also has a huge appetite which is reflected in our grocery bills,” says Anderson. “The one aspect of her daily routine that took no time at all to get up to speed was eating — fruits, berries, veggies, fish and nuts. She is also particularly keen on honey, but what bear isn’t?”

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If you’d like to send a gift in the form of a donation to the HSUS and The Fund for Animals, click here.

Happy “New Year, New You” to Eve! We wish her the best of luck and good health in her new home at Black Beauty sanctuary in 2019 and beyond.

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