Vermont Game Warden Richard Watkin said the attack occurred after the dog slipped out the door while a bear was foraging through garbage on the porch. Watkin said that after banging on a window to scare the bear away didn’t work, the owner of the dog opened the door in an attempt to scare the bear away. “At which point his two dogs bolted for the door,” said Watkin. “(The owner) was able to grab one of the dogs, but the second dog, a cocker spaniel, managed to slip out. The dog proceeded to confront and bark at the bear. The bear bit into the dog and took it out of sight to a nearby wooded area.”
The dog was found later a few yards from the house, having died as the result of a single bite wound. “As was the case in the first attack,” said Watkin, “the dog was not consumed.”
Watkin said that in both attacks, the bear did not necessarily act outside the realm of typical behavior for a bear. “(The dogs) were attacked outside of their homes while in the process of confronting a bear that reacted in a manner that should not be totally unexpected from a wild animal,” said Watkin.
The major underlying issue, noted Watkin, is that bears are being attracted to homes. “We give (bears) the reason to come around homes, which is a fundamental reality that absolutely needs to change,” said Watkin.
“The primary challenge that remains,” said Watkin, “is getting the message out to a broader audience of how to live, recreate, and behave responsibly in bear country, and for everyone to act on it. These wild animals warrant respect. None of us want a repeat of what has recently happened. The long-term solution to this problem is the need to diminish the attraction that bears have to residences.”
Watkin said that keeping garbage secure, not using bird feeders, and not deliberately feeding bears are all integral for long-term mitigation of issues like those experienced here recently. Watkin noted that it was his understanding that the garbage that attracted the bear in this most recent incident was an anomaly for the residents involved. However, access to garbage and bird feeders has been an ongoing issue in the area. “We do not seem to be reaching enough of the public with this message,” said Watkin, “as complaints of bears getting into garbage and hitting bird feeders do not seem to stop.”
Deliberate feeding of bears has also been an issue in Wilmington. In September 2016, James Burke was arrested for deliberately feeding bears. Although Watkin did not comment on that specific incident, speaking generally he said, “Feeding bears is irresponsible and illegal for good reason. It attracts them to residences and teaches bad habits.” Watkin said that, save for rehabilitation, which is handled purposefully by a professional, “there is no reasonable justification to feed bears.”
Watkin said he encourages anyone with knowledge of individuals purposely feeding bears to contact him.
Watkin said that although there are similarities to the two incidents, it is impossible to know if they were both carried out by the same bear. “We know that the second attack was inflicted by a large sow with two cubs,” said Watkin. “A single large bear was observed by the owner of the first dog that was attacked, though cubs may have been nearby. We simply don’t know if it is the same bear that killed both dogs.”
Watkin said that, partially because it’s unclear whether it was one bear or not, the plan for dealing with what is now a string of incidents is uncertain, at least as it relates to the bear itself. “There has been much discussion on many levels following these two incidents about what ought to happen,” said Watkin. “The general consensus is that killing this bear is probably not justified, considering it was attracted to a residence and then acted in a manner which was most likely protecting its cubs. When it comes to relocation, I think the problem we have is how do we know we have the right bear? And relocating a bear with bad habits and potentially reactive to dogs might result in similar issues elsewhere in an unsuspecting community.”
Reiterating his advice after the first attack, Watkin urged residents to be mindful when walking dogs and to take measures such as using a bear bell, but said he does not necessarily support discontinuing walking dogs altogether. “If people think it’s more prudent not to walk their dogs then that’s totally their prerogative,” said Watkin. “I can only speak from a personal perspective, which is my dog-walking habits have not changed. My dog now wears a bear bell, but that was long overdue and is not solely specific to bears.”
Watkin said he’s heard that in light of these recent incidents, some area residents have procured bear pepper spray to take with them while walking their dogs.
“I recommend to anyone who feels the need to carry such an item that they test it first so they can appreciate how it performs, and to not test spray into the wind,” said Watkin. “Pepper sprays have inherent unpleasant consequences and need to be handled with caution. I heard about an individual in Wilmington that recently sprayed themselves in the face and Rescue had to respond.”