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Florida family raising 13 bears in their back yard

Johnny Welde said his family's bears have appeared on TV shows including The Beverly Hillbillies and Lassie.

By Ben Hooper

MYAKKA CITY, Fla., May 5 (UPI) -- A Florida couple living with 13 bears in their back yard said their family has been training grizzly and brown bears for 89 years.

Johnny Welde III, 58, and his wife, Monica, 54, said the bears are like family members and their son, Johnny IV, has been working with the animals since he was 3 years old.

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"We know what these animals are capable of and we could read them -- we would never put our children in danger," Monica Welde told Barcroft TV. "In the wild, bears can be dangerous animals -- but the relationship we have with them is built up over years of living with them, 365 days a year."

"We live and breathe these animals, we love them and they are a part of us," she said.

Johnny Welde said the family business was founded by his grandfather in 1926 in Norway.

"He came to the United States in the 40s and did a lot of different venues over here and then in the late 50s and 60s he did a lot of TV shows and movies," he said. "My grandfather was performing somewhere and a talent scout saw me leading a bear around at 3-years-old and he said, 'well if that bear can work with a little boy, then he can work in Hollywood.'"

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The Welde's bears have appeared in TV series including The Beverly Hillbillies, Lassie, The Lucy Show and the film National Velvet. The Weldes said they spend their summers taking their bears to county and state fairs around the country.

The family said they have nothing to fear from their bears.

"You have more chance of getting killed in a car accident than getting attacked by a bear," Monica Welde said.

The Weldes said the bears see them as parents.

"It's all in how you raise them," Johnny Welde told The Columbus Dispatch in 2014. "The bears are our friends. They look at us like we're Mom and Pop."

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