By Joseph Robertia
Having a bear around the house is a frightening situation, and sometimes even hearing about such an incident can strike fear as much as hearing an actual growl would, as Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, found out last week.
The run-up to Lewis’ week began after a small French bulldog, owned by Ryan and Lauri Kapp, was killed by a trio of bears on the outskirts of Soldotna. The bears had been active in the Longmere Lake-St. Theresa area, but after the bears killed the dog, he said that calls about bears took off.
The same was true for posts about bears potentially killing dogs on the Kenai Peninsula Bears page on Facebook. It was rumored that as many as three dogs had been killed in the week following the death of the Kapps’ dog.
“We’ve been out to that area multiple times, including investigating the three different dog disappearances, and we couldn’t find any evidence of them being killed by a bear. There was no blood, no hide nor hair of any of the dogs. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but there is no evidence that it did,” he said.
On at least one occasion, one of the dogs investigated got out while the owner was attempting to fire a warning shot at a bear. As the owner stepped outside the dog got out the door and was missing for several days. The initial assumption was the dog — not much larger than a dachshund — had been eaten, but Lewis said that it was found days later. It had, perhaps, been too frightened by the bear to return home immediately.
This would not be the first time a dog went missing as a result of a bear encounter. Back in 2005, a Kasilof woman was mauled by a brown bear while hiking a trail in the Skilak Loop Area. She had two 7-month-old Newfoundland pups with her, and both ran off during the incident. One was found later that day at the trailhead, but the other remained missing for 13 days before finally being caught in a live trap baited with food and familiar items from home.
“The bottom line is, if you have a bear in your yard or suspect you do, be absolutely sure you have control over your dog. If you don’t, it won’t fare well,” Lewis said.
Lewis said that, much more than the possibility that bears have developed a pattern of behavior for pursuing or eating small dogs, is the likelihood that they are being drawn to this neighborhood as a result of being chummed in by garbage in nonbear-resistant containers.
“We’ve been out to this, and the Jim Dahler, Forest Lane areas, several times, and they’re definitely going house to house looking for garbage. They’re opportunistic feeders, it’s what they do, so they’re looking for whatever is the most food that is the easiest to get. And the down side is for people like the Kapps, who had a bear-resistant container, but the bears are there because of other people in the neighborhood not being as responsible with the garbage,” Lewis said.
From this same area a woman posted on the Kenai Peninsula Bears page on Facebook that a bear had tried to break into her home during the night July 11. She wrote, “The Troopers and Fish and Game said they can’t help unless it actually gets into the house.”
Lewis said this isn’t the case and advised anyone who believes a bear is aggressively attempting to gain entrance into their home to call Fish and Game and to defend themselves in the meantime.
“If people have a bear aggressively trying to gain entry, my advice is don’t let it,” he said. “If you have to kill that bear, that is a justifiable DLP (Defense of Life and Property) shooting.”
However, shooting at a bear eating out of a nonbear-resistent garbage can left out overnight is not justifiable, he said.
“There is a difference between a garbage bear and a predatory bear,” he said. “A sow with cubs can be dangerous, but so can a cow moose with calves. There are some inherent risks to living here, but there are things that can be done to prevent some of these risks, too.”
Lewis said there has been at least one incident of a bear shot while attempting to gain entry into a home already this year. It took place at night in the Moose Pass area about 10 days ago.
“It was another bear going house to house, habitually getting into garbage, but it was shot when it attempted to come through a doggy door,” Lewis said.
The number of bears shot in DLP situations this year has risen to 13 with the addition of this bear, as well as a few others shot and killed recently. One was in Copper Landing on July 2, shot at too close a range with a rubber slug intended for hazing. A cub-of-the-year was euthanized off of Strawberry Road on July 3 after it had apparently become orphaned and spent days getting into garbage. Another bear was shot on the Russian River on July 6 after it charged a family, and a collared bear was shot Thursday on Poppy Lane, which is still being investigated.
As for the trio of bears on the outskirts of Soldotna, Lewis said it is difficult to say for sure whether they will end up moving or get killed, but he was sure of one thing.
“The bears are the result of a people problem,” he said, “and the people there need to work on the issue of what is drawing them there.”