D. E. Larsen, DVM
Odie, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, stepped out the door onto the covered patio. His nose in the air, he sniffed the air. He made a muffled “woof,” he knew the bear was there, he stood watchfully, waiting.
I noticed Odie’s behavior. It was quite different than his usual bold bounce into the yard with a loud bark, announcing his dominance over his domain.
I looked, scanning the tree line of tall firs across the yard. Seeing nothing, I opened the door to speak with Odie. Just then, the hackles on his back stood up. I looked again, and there stood a large black bear at the edge of the trees.
“Odie!” I said. “Get in here.”
The last thing I needed was to have Odie tangle with a bear.
Odie came back into the house, and from behind the closed patio door, barked loudly and jumped at the door, banging his nose on the glass.
“Aw, your brave from this side of the glass,” I said.
Odie wagged his tail. I swear he knows every word I say.
Unknown to us, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had captured a pair of problem bears who were in the yards of Corvallis area residents. They had planned to transport them to the upper reaches of Quartsville Creek, and release them there. Their plans were squashed with a heavy snowfall overnight. In their view, their only option was to release them onto some timberland on the Eastern edge of Sweet Home. It only took a few days for our bear to establish his territory in our backyard.
Living near the top of a hill on the Eastern edge of town, we were used the having a wide assortment of wildlife in our backyard. Deer were a constant fixture, along with raccoons, wild turkeys, and an occasional cougar passing through. But a resident bear was cause for both alarm and a change in lifestyle.
Odie could cope fine. And he was a good signal as to how close the bear was to the yard. If Odie was cautious and quiet, the bear was close at hand. If he was loud and boisterous, the bear was off bothering one of the neighbors.
The cats were another story. We kept the cats indoors at all times. The exception was Charlie, our avid hunter, who insisted on being out most of the day and also most of the night. The other exception was the old feral tomcat who had adopted our backyard. He would have nothing to do with the house.
We were able to get along pretty well. The kids stayed inside most of the time. They only had to hear a few stories of people being mauled by a bear to convince them it was essential to give this bear a wide berth. I moved my rifle out from the gun safe and propped it in the corner by the patio door.
“I don’t know what is more dangerous, the bear or your rifle propped in the corner?” Sandy said.
“When I was growing up, there was a rifle and a shotgun in every house I knew,” I said. “Kids knew it was not safe for them to touch a gun. So you just need to have a little lesson for the kids.”
Then, one Saturday afternoon, the neighbor called.
“Dave, this is Herb, can you come over for a minute? The bear is my utility shed.”
Herb lived next door in a modular home. He had a deck on one end of the house, and small storage shed attached to the deck.
I went over to Herb’s, avoiding the shed, I went in the front door. I had no more than arrived when the bear drags a 40-pound bag of dog food out of the shed.
Here is the bear, sitting on the steps leading up to the deck, legs crossed with the bag of dog food between his hind legs. He was scooping dog food out of the bag with his front paws and eating it like someone eating popcorn at the theater.
“What should we do?” Herb asked.
“In my opinion, my professional opinion, when a wild animal begins to display behavior that is unlike anything wild, it is time to shot him,” I said. “We can’t have him rummaging around inside of sheds and garages. Next time it will be a house. Maybe we should call the state police.”
Herb calls the state police.
“They say not to shot him,” Herb says. “They said to make a loud noise and scare him off.”
“A loud noise, like what my rifle makes?” I asked.
“I have some firecrackers,” Herb says. “An M80 should make a loud enough noise.”
“That should be enough noise to make him jump,” I said.
Herb retrieved an M80 and opened the back door. The bear was still sitting there, eating his dog food popcorn, without a care in the world, utterly oblivious to us. Herb lit the firecracker and tossed it toward the bear. It landed on the deck, only a few inches from the bear’s butt.
“Crack!” The firecracker explodes. In a blink of the eye, that bear was 20 feet up a fir tree located 30 feet from the deck. Had he came in our direction, he would have been on top of us before we had a chance to move.
After this event, I called the state police game officer, myself. I had spoken with him on other occasions.
“This is Dr. Larsen,” I said. “I am one of the families up on 50th Avenue who is dealing with this bear in our back yards. He is starting to rummage through sheds and garages. In my professional opinion, I think it is time to shot him before someone walks in on him and gets mauled.”
“I am not going to give you permission to shot him if that is what you are asking,” the officer said.
“I am not asking for permission, I am telling you what I am going to do,” I said. “I am okay with letting a judge decide how valid my professional opinion should be considered.”
“Give me a day or two, and I will have the Fish and Game guys get up there and recapture the bear,” the officer said.
“I will give those days unless I find him inside a building again,” I said.
It took a few days, and they recaptured the bear. The second bear had been causing similar problems over on a hill on the other side of Wiley Creek. They captured him at the same time. I was told that because of the heavy snow still in the high country, they released both bears out in the middle of the valley.
It was only a few weeks later when there was a story in the newspaper. Both bears had moved into Junction City and were causing havoc. The Fish and Game people had to shoot both bears.