"Meatball" the bear, the elusive 400-pound ursine who earned his name by breaking into a Southern California garage and eating frozen Costco meatballs from a refrigerator, is at the center of a legal dispute between the woman who created his online identity and the sanctuary taking care of him.
Sarah Aujero opened a Twitter account in Meatball's name to save him from being euthanized after he was caught repeatedly marauding through neighborhoods of the San Gabriel foothills last year.
Aujero's campaign worked. The @TheGlendaleBear Twitter account had more than 28,000 followers at one point, and enough funds were raised by selling Meatball-branded goods, such as pins and T-shirts, to place him in the care of a San Diego County animal sanctuary.
But now the sanctuary, Lions, Tigers & Bears, wants full control of the Twitter account to raise funds to help pay for Meatball's care, it said.
The sanctuary said it asked Aujero in late October to sign over all of Meatball's trademark rights, along with her copyright, to which Aujero declined.
In a statement, Lions, Tigers & Bears founder and director Bobbi Brink said Aujero first agreed to relinquishing the rights, then declined after learning that a children's book was being published about Meatball.
"We've tried to work as a team with Sarah with Meatball's best interest in mind, however her refusal to relinquish the trademark is prohibiting LTB's ability to raise funds for Meatball," Brink said.
However, Aujero said it was the terms of the arrangement that she didn't agree with.
"I'd have to completely stop all activity and use. I can't even be associated with the bear, otherwise I'll never see him again," she said. "They just want to cut me out from the entire picture and I don't agree to that. I don't think it's fair."
Aujero has continued tweeting messages of support for the bear and said she hopes to come to an agreement with the sanctuary.
As for Meatball, a spokeswoman for the sanctuary said he is in good health and loves to roam the bear habitat.
The animal will be featured on a float in Glendale's entry in the Rose Parade.
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