Mark Dumas adopted Agee the polar bear when she was just eight weeks old. And having grown up under the trainer’s care, the predator shares a unique bond with her human companion. However, from the outside looking in, Mark and Agee’s relationship may be hard to comprehend.
Mark and his wife Dawn live in the city of Abbotsford in British Columbia, Canada. There, they run Beyond Just Bears, a pet training business that supplies a variety of animals – including large predators – to the film and television industries.
And among the creatures in the couple’s care is Agee. The polar bear arrived at their facility when she was just two months old after Mark had scouted her to star in the film Alaska. The 1996 adventure movie was filmed in British Columbia and chronicles the journey of two children who are looking for their father in the remote Alaskan wilderness.
At the time, Agee was being hand-reared by staff at a zoo after her elderly mom had become unable to care for her any longer. “Agee was the 11th baby born with this mother,” Dawn explained in a 2013 episode of BBC series Animal Odd Couples.
When Mark approached the zoo, then, staff there agreed to hand Agee’s care over to him. As a result, the trainer began prepping the polar bear for the movie while ensuring she had all the food and encouragement she needed. And before long, Mark became something of a surrogate parent to Agee.
As a cub, Agee lived with Mark and Dawn in their family home. There, she was bottle-fed by her new humans and indulged in games with her owners’ pet dogs. Then when Agee moved to her own outside enclosure, Mark kept her company by napping with her.
And it eventually became clear that Mark’s relationship with Agee was far deeper than that of your average trainer to their animal. “It’s my job. It’s what I had to do, and as I was doing it I became very, very attached to her,” he later explained on Animal Odd Couples.
Mark and Agee soon grew so close, in fact, that the trainer was able to play fight with her, kiss her and even place his head in her mouth without fear of attack. The pair also venture into the swimming pool together, where they are known to participate in the occasional wrestling match.
Describing his relationship with Agee to the BBC, Mark said, “It’s just a really special bond. I love her a lot. I can’t say she loves me, [but] she really is bonded to me.” However, while Mark has downplayed any potential feelings Agee has for him, his wife has been much more straight to the point. “[Agee] loves him,” Dawn confirmed.
Elaborating on the connection between the polar bear and her husband, Dawn said that Mark had been the animal’s family for “as long as [Agee] can remember.” She added, “Agee sees him as her mother and father together, really, [as well as her] companion.”
And the polar bear’s love for her best buddy is seemingly evident in the way she acts around him. When Agee is with Mark, she often emits a low-pitched rumbling noise. “It’s almost like a purring noise for a cat,” Dawn revealed. “She’s super content, and she’s sucking on her tongue.”
Given that Agee has been around humans her entire life, you’d be forgiven for thinking that she has good people skills. However, the animal’s friendliness appears to be reserved only for Mark and Dawn. “When someone starts talking to me [and] takes my attention away from her, she gets upset about it,” Mark revealed to Animal Odd Couples.
The polar bear trainer added that only his wife was allowed to distract him in Agee’s company. “Dawn can take my attention as much as she wants because Agee doesn’t mind Dawn,” he said. Dawn agreed, putting this down to familiarity. She continued, “[Agee]’s used to me talking all the time.”
It’s believed that Mark is the only person on the planet to have such a close bond with a fully grown polar bear – and it’s a connection that brings him great joy, too. “[Agee and I] have a really wonderful relationship,” the animal expert admitted. “And I would never change that for anything.”
It’s perhaps no wonder that more people aren’t best friends with polar bears, though. After all, fully grown females of the species can grow to as heavy as 650 pounds; the animals are also perfectly capable of killing humans if provoked or hungry. However, Mark has never felt threatened by Agee, and this may be because he has raised her from such a young age.
Speaking to LADbible in February 2018, Mark explained, “[Agee] bit me when she was young, but that’s to be expected.” In Agee’s defense, he added, “You can’t teach them to not do something unless they’ve done it. So with baby bears, you’re gonna get bit. That’s just how baby bears are.”
However, in 2011 Mark told the Daily Mail, “If anyone else tried [to play with Agee], they would end up as [her] dinner. The only people in the whole world she likes are me and my wife. I have worked with bears in this way for over 40 years, so I can read Agee’s body language and know how to behave safely around her.”
And while it is fair to say that polar bears do not make ideal pets, Mark is eager to stress that his furry companion is happy. “Agee’s life is a really good life,” he told LADbible. “She doesn’t have to hunt – all the groceries are brought to her – and it’s top-quality food.”
So with that in mind, Mark has some stern words for people who criticize him for keeping an exotic creature. “They don’t know that I’ve spent all this time with this animal,” he said. “I taught her how to swim – I’ve done all these different things with her.”
And on the matter of Agee’s well-being, the animal trainer attempted to give others food for thought. He added, “My question to these people that have these statements about her is, ‘Would she be better off out in the wild and dead?’ They don’t live that long in the wild. They don’t live like that.”