Editorial: Bears, dogs unleashed

The volatile mix of bears and dogs was brought home again last week with the serious mauling of a nine-year-old Australian shepherd/blue heeler named Molly by an aggressive black bear on Whistler Mountain.

Commenting on the brutal but non-lethal attack, a conservation officer noted that dogs are involved in more than 50 per cent of negative interactions between people and bears. “That’s why we always recommend to keep your dog at home when you go in bear country,” he told Pique Newsmagazine.

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The “more-than-50-per-cent” statistic quoted by the officer comes from an analysis of 92 bear attacks on people in North America between 2010 and 2014. It also found that dogs caused many of the attacks.

“Most dogs, when they are around bears, aren’t exactly under control,” researcher Stephen Herrero, who co-authored the informal study, said in a CBC interview last year. “If they are not on a leash, it takes a really well-trained dog to keep it from going after the bear.” In most cases that escalated to attacks on owners, the bear “got wound up” dealing with the dog, he said, “and then decided to shift its attention to the human.”

A 2016 paper published in Scientific Reports listed “walking an unleashed dog” as the second most common risky behaviour associated with large carnivore attacks. First on the list was parents leaving children unattended (especially high in cougar attacks), while third was searching for a wounded large carnivore during hunting, fourth was engaging in outdoor activities during twilight or at night, and fifth was approaching a female with young.

The research linked risk-enhancing behaviour to about half of 271 well-documented attacks, with the other half due to people simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As well, the authors noted that large carnivore attacks are extremely rare and that bees, mosquitoes, spiders, snails, snakes, ungulates – and domestic dogs – are responsible for far more human fatalities.

Which does put things in perspective – as long as we remember that we live in bear country, where an unleashed dog is an unwelcome visitor.

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