bear altercation in the Valley of the Beasts
Monday, July 7 2014
I took the dogs for a walk a little before 9:00am this morning. This time I walked nearly all the way up the Farm Road to the Farm and then cut eastward through the forest until I ended up on the Chamomile Headwaters Trail, a bit north of where I expected. At around that spot (41.924217N, 74.104071W), Eleanor ran somewhat excitedly southward along a narrow terrace towards a treefall I've been gradually cutting up and taking home. This time, though, I wanted to get firewood closer to home, so my intention was to walk over to the Stick Trail, cut some pieces from some logs I'd pre-positioned, and carry that home strapped to my backpack frame. So I continued towards the Stick Trail, fearing I would soon hear barking. I could just sense that there was some interesting animal nearby that would soon be treed.
Even before I'd made it to the Stick Trail, I heard barking. At that moment Eleanor was closing in on me, having abandoned whatever tangent she'd gone on. She heard the barking and was about to run off and join Ramona, but I sternly ordered her not to. Somewhat surprisingly, she obeyed me. I decided that this time the best strategy would be to ignore Ramona and let her bark herself out at the bottom of whatever tree she was standing under. Clearly the animal wasn't a porcupine, because Ramona wouldn't keep barking like that with a mouth full of quills, and if it was a bear, the bear could probably wait her out. So I continued with my plans, carrying a moderately-heavy load of salvaged firewood back home. On the way, I could hear Ramona's barking gradually dissolving away into the general forest din of birds, treefrogs, breezes, and the distant sounds of cars and airplanes. (There are no mistimed 17 Year Cicadas left.)
Though I thought eventually Ramona would tire herself out and come home, time passed and she wasn't coming home. It was a hot day and I've heard of dogs killing themselves from overexertion when chasing a group of crafty Jackrabbits (who had perfected a sort of endless relay race). It looked like I was going to have to get her. I biked up the Farm Road, parked at the bottom of the Chamomile Headwaters Trail, and started hiking towards the barking. I hadn't been able to hear it at the house at all, though I could hear it faintly from where I parked the bike. It sounded like it was coming from about a half mile to the east. So I set off on foot, walking as quickly as I could in a straight line towards the barking. She'd managed to chase the bear about 1500 feet south of where she'd first detected it (to a point in the Valley of the Beasts near 41.920417N, 74.102526W).
As I approached Ramona, I must have made enough of a racket by stepping on sticks and such to disturb whatever equilibrium existed between her and the animal she'd treed (which was clearly a bear, though I never actually saw it). There was a moment of confusion and then Ramona began to run around seemingly randomly through the forest. Based on her behavior, I assumed the bear had somehow taken advantage of the distraction I'd made to come down out of the tree and run away and that Ramona's running around was little more than a demonstration of frustration. I was sure that the bear was long gone and that I might as well let Ramona burn off whatever crazy energy was driving her. As she ran around, she passed near me only once, but she'd been moving too quickly for me to snap on the leash that I'd brought.
Evidently, though, Ramona knew something that I didn't and her behavior was more clever than I'd given her credit for. She knew the bear was actually still nearby, though she wasn't sure exactly where. Perhaps she could smell him. The random crazy running around allowed her to monitor all the trees in the area in case a bear was coming down one of them.
Eventually I heard an ominous noise that sounded like a tree falling over, though it didn't end with any sort of crash. Had the bear climbed an unsuitable tree that had collapsed beneath his weight? I heard another noise, this one more like Chewbacca, that I took to be the roaring vocalization of a bear. I'd never heard anything like it before. And then I heard the horrible sound of a dog squealing from an injury. There followed another roar, more dog squealing, and then a period of dog whimpers. "I'm coming Ramona!" I shouted, though I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about charging towards an enraged bear. From the sounds I'd heard, I expected to find Ramona disemboweled and bleeding out through a ripped jugular vein. Was I going to have to bash her on the head with a piece of bluestone to put her out of her misery? But as I approached, I saw that Ramona was standing beneath a tree wagging her tail and panting desperately. The sides of her face had all been sliced and poked by bear claws. There was a smallish gaping hole im her throat, though most of the scratches across Ramona's neck looked to be superficial. She was bleeding from an injury in the right corner of her mouth, and it made everything look much worse than it actually was.
Back at the house, I applied hydrogen peroxide to all the injuries and then gooped a bunch of antibiotic salve into them. I also superglued that tear in the skin of her throat. Ramona seemed reasonably stable after that and even had enough of an appetite to crunch down a liver-flavored glucosamine tablet. It didn't seem like an emergency, so I didn't feel the need to take her to the vet. But when I called Gretchen at the bookstore, she demanded to know why she wasn't already at the vet. I explained that I didn't want to take her to the vet only to find her in the care of the wrong vet. (Gretchen is very particular about which vet gets to see our dogs at the hospital in Hurley.) Gretchen could see my point, so she said she'd call the vet and make the arrangements for me. She was supposed to call back soon but never did; evidently our phone line's ringer function was failing again like it had a month before. When I next reached Gretchen, she told me the vet was overbooked today and that if Ramona was taken there, she'd have to be dropped off and looked at later ("asynchronously," as we say in the software world). Since she was stable, it seemed best to just keep her home.
By the time Gretchen got home this evening, the side of Ramona's face was noticeably swollen and, on the few occasions when she rose to her feet, she seemed to be favoring one of her legs. She was also much lower-energy than usual, spending all her time just lying on the green shag carpet in the first floor office (or on dog bed I dragged over for her to use).
There were a number of important lessons from today's bear incident. The first regards that behavior we've seen of bears coming down the tree soon after climbing them. Evidently that is not something they normally do when it's just a dog at the bottom of the tree; they do that when a human approaches. That makes sense as a fine-grain adaptation to human hunting. (I'd originally thought that human hunting had made them this way about being treed by anything.) Another lesson is that when a dog is loose and frantically looking for a hidden bear in the nearby woods, it's important to do everything possible to detain that dog so the bear can either escape or be left alone. Yet another lesson is that all bears are extremely dangerous, even single bears without cubs, particularly when they are cornered or momentarily incapable of fleeing (such as after they've fallen out of a tree). Finally, there's this: dogs may have a lot of instinctual hunting abilities, but they are poor judges of danger. The nature of her injuries suggest that Ramona was hurt while assaulting a bear, not while trying to flee. I love my dog to death but that bear had every right to do what he did.
This evening I went out to salvage a second backpack load of firewood, this time from a large cache of unbucked oak cores (trunks with the bark and sapwood rotted away) that I'd stockpiled two landscape-tiers west of the Farm Road.
Meanwhile, Gretchen had whipped together an impressive Asian slaw salad that was great when mixed with leftover rice from the pressure cooker.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next