LONG BEACH The instant Janet Herman let her familys dogs, Buddy and Rusty, out of the back door early last Friday morning, the scene on her porch became so chaotic that she didnt realize until later that a bear had bitten her.
While Herman and Rusty quickly made it back inside the house, the familys beloved miniature schnauzer Buddy was not so lucky.
The small dog, who had always been protective, was killed instantly in what authorities are describing as an accidental encounter with a black bear.
Friday night, Mike Cenci, chief deputy of enforcement for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said there is no indication that people in the area around Hermans Sandridge Road home had been feeding bears on purpose, but they may have been drawn to unsecured garbage cans. When ready sources of food are available, bears can become dangerously comfortable with venturing into populated areas, he said.
For a bear to be that close to a porch light is not normal, Cenci said.
Recovering at home
Monday morning, Herman was resting at home, recovering from the puncture wounds on her stomach. She is expected to fully recover from her injuries.
Im usually a really strong person. Nothing usually bothers me, but Im kind of rattled, Herman said.
Herman, and her daughter, Paula Herman-Wright, who lives next door, said they hope other Peninsula residents will learn an important lesson from their frightening ordeal: Black bears are powerful, unpredictable wild animals, and should be treated accordingly. Peninsula residents must learn how to prevent further bear encounters.
Bears are not cuddly little animals. They belong in the wilderness. They belong in the wild. They dont belong in peoples backyards. By feeding the bears, people are putting other people at risk, she said.
Herman, whose front porch is decorated with wood carvings of black bears, said she had always had a healthy respect for the wild animals that live in the woods behind her Sandridge Road home. In more than 30 years of living there, she had never tried to attract the animals' attention, and with the exception of raccoons, they had stayed out of her large fenced-in backyard.
But she did do one thing that she now believes contributed to the attack. Like many rural homeowners, she stored her garbage can next to the house.
I know I was partially to blame because I did have my garbage on the porch. But Id always had it there, Herman said.
Routine goes wrong
Around 3:30 a.m. that morning, Herman got up to let two of her familys dogs out to do their business a nightly routine.
She didnt sense anything out of the ordinary on the dim porch, but the moment the door opened, the dogs shot out in a fury at something on the porch. Herman figured it was a raccoon.
The dogs were barking and growling and I knew all heck had broken loose. I was yelling and screaming to get them back, Herman recalled.
Still standing with one foot inside the doorjamb, she reached behind her, grabbed a broom, and began swatting into the darkness, trying to scare off the raccoon.
When she felt the broom connect with something big, she thought shed accidentally swatted Rusty. And when Rusty came barreling by a second later, Herman felt something smack into her middle, and thought hed accidentally head-butted her in the stomach.
I never saw the bear, Herman said.
Shortly after that, she discovered Buddy.
It bit and scratched its way through anything that stood between him and freedom, Cenci said of the bear. Cenci thinks the bear didnt go looking for trouble, but rather was eating garbage and reacted violently when Herman and the dogs surprised it. Black bears in Western Washington generally do not kill living prey, so the dog was likely killed as a defensive reaction.
Buddy was a very protective dog I think what happened was when she opened the door, the dogs went charging out, the bear panicked, grabbed Buddy and threw him down. It was hard. It was so hard. Those dogs are my kids, Herman-Wright said.
Back inside the house, Herman tended to Buddy, and noticed something damp on her T-shirt.
It was a shock because when I came in and when to the bathroom and pressed on my stomach, thats when blood shot out.
Still clear-headed, she arranged for a colleague to cover Herman-Wrights shift at the home where both women work as care-providers, and asked Paula to come quickly.
A nursing student, Herman-Wright assessed her mothers wound, and decided to take her to the hospital, where a CT scan revealed that she had deep puncture wounds that were consistent with a bear bite.
Back at home Friday morning, the women alerted the WDFW, and Game Warden Paul Jacobson and Deputy Chief Mike Cenci each sped down from Olympia, summoning a Tacoma-based Karelian Bear Dog and his handler to join in the search for the bear.
The team notified other area residents, and discovered an over-turned trashcan and a set of claw marks on Hermans deck, but no bear rain had washed the scent away.
Two large culvert-type bear traps were placed in the area surrounding Hermans home, though one was tripped by Saturdays storm and was later moved. If caught, the bear will be euthanized. As of Monday afternoon, no bears were captured.
Pacific County hosts a thriving population of black bears. Since September, when an Ilwaco residents alleged habit of feeding bears prompted the WDFW to begin setting bear traps in her neighborhood, Long Beach Peninsula residents have been engaged in a heated discussion about how the bears should be treated.
Some regard them as entirely benign and semi-domesticated, but WDFW has repeatedly warned of the likelihood of dangerous interactions like the one Friday morning.
As for Janet and Paula, they say theyve learned that taking common-sense measures to keep wild animals at a distance can be a matter of life or death. Theyll no longer store garbage outdoors, and will think twice about letting the animals out in the dark.
Im glad that (Buddy) went fast, and Im glad that it was painless. We are very much aware that this whole things could have had a different ending. It could have been a lot worse, Herman-Wright said.