A lazy afternoon relaxing on the shores of Osoyoos Lake turned into a day of sheer terror when a black bear sow attacked a woman and her dog.
Lisa Robinson, her 15-year-old daughter and their golden retriever Cooper were visiting Osoyoos from Kelowna and enjoying a tranquil sunny Saturday afternoon in her parents’ backyard on 81st Street around 5 p.m.
They didn’t even know the bear was there until it suddenly appeared in front of them.
“The bear just jumped up onto the [retaining] wall,” she said. The dog and bear got into a tussle. “The bear got him by the neck and just started to thrash.”
Robinson screamed at her daughter to get inside.
“I had a wine glass in my hand and I threw it at the bear and it broke, and the bear stood up and just kind of like, I wouldn’t say mauled but just kind of thrashed at me with its claws on both sides of my face and arm.
“It knocked me down and my daughter started screaming.”
The bear had already let go of the dog, which resumed barking and chasing the animal, prompting it to retreat and climb the nearest tree.
“And then as I was running to the house I kind of threw the lawn chair at it just to try and scare it more and then I ran up to the balcony where we were screaming for Cooper to come back to the house and then we locked ourselves in the house.”
The bear soon got down from the tree and walked north along the shoreline, according to Tobe Sprado, B.C. Conservation Officer Service inspector for the Okanagan.
Conservation officers, who had been alerted along with RCMP and the BC Ambulance service by the initial 911 call from Robinson’s daughter, followed a trail of blood from the injured bear.
“They went down onto the lakeshore and saw a significant amount of blood and were able to follow that for over 100 metres,” Sprado said.
The black bear sow was then spotted lying on the lakeshore.
“The officer was able to walk up to the sow and put her down. And then the young yearling cubs were also shot and killed,” he said.
Sprado added that cubs are sometimes relocated in such cases, but in this situation, they had been in numerous homes in the area and had become “food conditioned.”
Robinson’s voice cracked with emotion as she recalled the conservation officers telling her all three bears had to be killed.
Following the attack, the family dog Cooper and Robinson’s daughter were taken by the RCMP to the local veterinarian in Osoyoos, while Robinson was taken by ambulance to South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver.
Luckily for Robinson, the emergency department was still open, with half an hour to spare. The ER department was scheduled to close overnight from 6 p.m. as a result of ongoing staffing problems that have plagued the hospital.
Of the 11 stitches she received, she said she has “four on my eyelid, four on my cheek, three on my other cheek. They had to glue my ear because they didn’t want to stitch it but they glued it instead.”
She also has scratches on both arms because she held up her arms to protect her face. The hospital staff told her she was lucky that she didn’t lose her eye in the attack.
“It happened so fast, it was just unbelievable,” she said.
Robinson praised the RCMP who looked after her daughter and the dog and helped get them to and from the veterinary clinic, as well as EMS, and hospital staff.
Cooper received some initial treatment, and will be seeing his regular vet in Kelowna for follow-ups as he recovers.
“Everybody was just amazing and shocked that it was a bear attack,” Robinson said.
Robinson said it was a “terrifying” experience and although she has heard about bear attacks, “yesterday I couldn’t even comprehend it. Today, I’m just like, I’m angry. I kind of go through, like, you cry, and then you get angry,” she said.
“Thank God it was me and not a young child that couldn’t fight back. That would have turned out differently.”
One thing that will change is that she plans to always carry bear spray when she goes for walks in the woods and even in urban parks.
A necropsy, or autopsy for animals, was performed on the sow Sunday morning and was inconclusive, Sprado noted.
“The only thing that stood out for the officers was that the tongue was somewhat mangled. But it appears based on the evidence that that bear had bled out for quite some time and so there was blood loss that prevented her from leaving [the shoreline].”
He added that there was nothing obvious suggesting a bullet hole, knife or a bite mark into an artery, and the cause of death has been deemed “unknown,” other than the final bullet from conservation officers.
Sprado points to the dog as the source of escalation in this incident. “Unfortunately, in this circumstance, it was the dog that created the situation but it’s obviously unleashed in the backyard, which is normal,” he said.
His recommendation in such cases is for owners to quickly bring dogs into the house or put them on a leash, if there is time.
“But in this particular circumstance it was quick. People aren’t going to have bear spray on their person either — it’s just instinctual what the homeowner did there.”
There is a “possibility” that the bears were displaced as a result of the Eagle Bluff wildfire that tore across Mount Kruger, but Sprado said there’s “no evidence to suggest that.”
Sprado added that there will always be wildlife in and around Osoyoos — not just bears, but cougars, bobcats and coyotes. He said animals are attracted to “people’s fruit and garbage and any attractant, bird seed and pet food and that kind of stuff.”
“Any attractant that is there you’re going to be attracting some form of wildlife, even as small as raccoons and rats.”