When she heard her dogs barking and carrying on in the backyard, Hailey Morinico figured a squirrel or neighborhood pet had set them off.
But after rushing over to investigate Monday afternoon, the 17-year-old came face-to-face with a bear. And it was swiping at Valentina, the family’s small dog and Morinico’s “baby.”
The teenager’s split-second instinct? To give the bear a shove.
“The first thing I think to do is push it, push a bear, push an apex predator, man,” she later recalled on TikTok.
In a moment captured by security cameras at the Bradbury, Calif., home, the teenager did just that - causing the animal to teeter off the brick wall where it had been standing. Morinico then snatched up Valentina and scurried off to safety.
The video of the teen’s bravura ricocheted across the Internet after her cousin uploaded it to TikTok on Monday with the caption, “My cousin Hailey yeeted a bear off her fence today and saved her dogs. How was your Memorial Day?!” By Tuesday, it was trending on Twitter and Morinico was becoming something of a folk hero.
“HELP THE BEAR” trended along with the clip — a reference to lyrics imagining an encounter between man and bear. “If you ever see me fightin’ in the forest with a grizzly bear,” goes the song, “help the bear!”
The teen’s tussle with the bear unfolded in an action-packed 22 seconds, all of it recorded by cameras at her Los Angeles-area house.
The footage opens with the bear, two cubs in tow, ambling along the wall. The family’s four dogs - one large, the others very small - burst onto the screen, tearing toward the intruder. The cubs take off. But three times, the bear reaches down and swats at the dogs.
The fourth time, Morinico appears. She sprints across the yard, pushes the bear off the wall and dashes away in a flurry of motion.
In a second video her cousin shared on TikTok, Morinico introduces herself as “the person who fought off a bear to protect my kids.” She said bears are not an uncommon sight in the mountainous area where her family lives.
But this one was “literally like picking up one of my dogs.” So she sprang into action. She said she did not push the bear “that hard.”
For a girl who took on a bear, Morinico came out relatively unscathed. She told local television station KTLA that her only injuries were a sprained finger and a scraped knee. Still, she does not recommend it.
“Do not push bears,” she said. “Don’t do what I did. You might not have the same outcome.”