German shepherd injured by bear while protecting family on hike
With a low berry yield and a disappointing salmon return, black bears are hungry in Kachemak Bay State Park. State officials suspect hunger drove the attack on a family of four this week as they hiked a popular trail.
By the time the Bates family of Halibut Cove saw the large black bear sow stalking them on the Glacier Moraine Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park, it was already within just a few yards of 12-year-old Rockwell Bates. And even though all four family members bunched together, yelling and waving, trying to drive the bear off, it advanced. That’s when Sally stepped in front of the charging bear and took the brunt of the attack.
Weatherly Bates picks up the story.
“We all got together in a group, but it just didn't stop, and came right at us even faster. And it probably got within five feet and we had one of our dogs, she was just by my side, and went and put herself right in between the bear and our son, because the bear was obviously going to pounce on our son,” Bates said. “And she just stood there. I mean, neither of our dogs ever barked at this bear, it happened so quickly, but she just positioned herself right in between the bear and our son and the bear just tackled her.”
Sally, a seven-year-old German Shepherd, wound up with her head in the jaws of the bear.
“It started biting her and she was yelping and it had her by the head and in all the chaos our dog on the leash, he ran and started fighting with the bear also,” Bates said. “And we had a gun in our backpack and my husband was able to get it out of my bag and ran over and he started kicking the bear, trying to get it to release our dog. And, he finally got a clear shot. I was just like, 'please you have to, we have to kill this bear. It's gonna kill our dog.'”
Greg Bates put the bear down after it released Sally. Then, the family needed to get Sally off the trail and across Kachemak Bay to a Homer veterinarian.
“It brings tears to our eyes that she did that for us, because I have no doubt if she hadn't put herself in between us and the bear that it could have really hurt one of my kids or one of us,” Bates said, adding that Sally is doing good. “We did bring her to the vet the day it happened. And she got a lot of puncture wounds because the bear was biting her head, but she's gonna be fine. The vet said she's super tough. I mean, she’s an 80-pound dog and was able to handle the bite a lot better than I think we would have.”
Bates says bear encounters are not unusual around Halibut Cove, but this one was different.
“In the past, they're super wary. We do encounter them often and they always run. Unfortunately for the bear, she was in pretty bad condition. And nothing in her stomach but parasites,” she said. “And, I just think it was really desperation for her. I'm not saying we thought it would happen, but we're going to be a lot more careful in the future and try maybe not to hike as much during hyperphasia when bears are really trying to fatten up for winter.”
Bates says her son Rockwell, and his 10-year-old sister Vera were shaken up by the encounter, but were uninjured.
“We're a little traumatized, but they're doing well. They really feel bad for the bears and we all think they've had a really hard year, not enough food. And we just feel like they don't want them (the bears) to be stressed out,” Bates said. “And we just want to make people aware that this can happen. As our son said, they can't just go to the grocery store for a chicken, buy a chicken for dinner. So, you know, we kind of have to just respect them that they're really hungry and, you know, having a tough year.”
The Bates returned the next day to recover the bear carcass, salvaging what meat they could, and bringing the hide, skull, and other required parts to Fish and Game to be recorded. They may or may not tan the hide.
Bates says that injuries and perhaps a recent encounter with a pepper-spray wielding hiker could have contributed to the bear’s highly unusual behavior.
She added that her kids are concerned that all bears of the park will be seen as bad for the actions of this one, and they wouldn't want that.