Paula Myers never imagined that her first bear encounter would occur just a few feet from her Sitka home, and that her dog, 2-year-old Chihuahua-pug mix Paco, would be killed and consumed by a brown bear right in front of her eyes.
Myers and her husband, Brad Langdorf, moved to Sitka in January to work at Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. Coming to Alaska was a new adventure for the couple, Myers said.
"I had not seen a bear yet," Myers said Wednesday. "I had no idea it would be 5 feet from my house, eating my dog."
The incident occurred Monday evening. Myers returned home around 6 p.m. with her largest dog, a mutt named Kef that she adopted for protection shortly after the couple arrived in Sitka. She let Kef out of her car and he headed toward the road to go exploring, she said.
Myers described her property as the last house on Halibut Point Road in Sitka. Her property is wooded, roughly 5 acres bordering Tongass National Forest. Several bear trails crisscross her land.
"I guess in my mind when we moved here, I wanted to think they were just deer trails," she laughed.
After letting Kef out, Myers headed inside. She let out her other two dogs -- a pug named Prissy and 6-pound Paco -- that she brought with her from Oklahoma. As she unloaded groceries inside, Myers heard Prissy "scream." She rushed onto the deck to see Paco pinned beneath a brown bear's paw just 5 feet away.
The bear, most likely a 3- or 4-year-old male, according to Fish and Game, "had just put his huge paw on the little dog and ripped him to pieces," she said. "I screamed and screamed at the bear," but he didn't budge. She ran down the deck and back up, and Prissy followed her up the deck to safety. Myers had a gun in the house, but she wasn't sure where it was, as the couple was still in the midst of unpacking.
The bear sat in front of her home eating Paco until troopers arrived roughly 10 minutes later. "That bear had no fear of me whatsoever. He never even acknowledged my presence," Myers said.
"It was horrifying," Myers said. "The worst part was how helpless I felt."
When the troopers arrived, the bear stood up and took off toward the road, Myers said. But later, troopers found the remains of the dog in a place different from the direction the bear had headed initially. "The bear had crossed my yard and had made a big circle," she said.
Myers believes Paco, who had never seen a bear, thought that the animal was a big dog. She believes Paco approached the bear and lay down, submitting to it.
"I really think the whole thing was just accidental," she said. "But once a bear has found a food source, he comes back."
THE BEAR RETURNS
And the bear did return to her property that evening.
Kef disappeared after the incident, so Myers and Langdorf had gone out looking for him. They returned home at about 9:30 p.m., unsuccessful in their search. The couple had gotten out of their truck when Myers spotted the bear standing in the yard. Langdorf started yelling and shot a pistol three times in the bear's direction to scare it off. Myers hopped back in the truck while her husband went inside and called 911. She stayed in the vehicle until troopers arrived.
Troopers returned to the scene, and a search for the animal began. The bear still hadn't been located Wednesday morning, said Phil Mooney, Sitka area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Myers believes the bear returned for a third time at some point that night.
"We try not to leave anything out," she said, but they had forgotten about an old bag of dog biscuits on a table outside. On Tuesday morning, Myers found the bag in the same spot where the bear had eaten the dog.
"I knew he'd been back," she said.
Myers also keeps chickens on the property. After the incident, she contemplated getting rid of them.
On Monday evening, in her distress, Myers was "ready just to give up everything," she said.
Then on Tuesday, "I woke up and put my war paint on," she said.
She bought a shotgun, found the revolver that had been packed away, and moved the chickens into a dry cabin on the property.
"I will never, ever let that happen again," she said.
Still, she's cautious about taking the dogs outside until her husband is home. Kef, who the couple found on Tuesday, "is not the same dog," she said. Before the incident, he would wander around the yard. He is now hesitant to go outside, she said.
Mooney, the Fish and Game biologist, said bear attacks on dogs don't occur often in Sitka. There are "maybe three dogs that have had bad run-ins (with bears) in the past five years," he said.
In Sitka, an island community of roughly 9,000 people, a handful of bears will roam the town at once, Mooney said. The number fluctuates, however, and several years ago, 19 bears were spotted in town during the summer.
"The chance of encountering a bear (in Sitka) is relatively good," he said.
After the attack, Mooney went out looking for the bear with a trooper. They had an infrared camera, and while they spotted deer, no bears were located. They likewise didn't find any blood to indicate that the bear had been wounded.
For now, Fish and Game is "kind of in a holding position" until the bear is spotted. The attendant at Starrigavan Campground -- which also sits near the end of Halibut Point Road -- is on the lookout for the bear, which had previously been seen eating grass along the coastline. Fish and Game didn't receive any calls about the bear's whereabouts on Tuesday evening, Mooney said.
What will become of the bear "depends on what it does the next couple days." Mooney said they might use a stun gun to knock him down and scare him away. They could also drug the bear and apply a collar to the animal to track him in the future.
"If he's persistent or wounded, that may change," Mooney said. "We don't want the bear to get into a situation where killing dogs becomes part of its routine."
If the bear is wounded and dies on its own, "then the ravens will tip us off," Mooney said.
Reach Laurel Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By LAUREL ANDREWS