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Squamish video highlights potential bear encounter risks for pets and people

Learn from experts how bears perceive dogs and what steps pet owners can take to avoid potentially dangerous situations in bear country.

It is likely not an uncommon interaction in Squamish, where many dogs and wildlife reside.

Matt Drinkwater shot and shared with The Squamish Chief this video of a sow and two cubs near the pickleball courts in Squamish on Sunday, Oct. 8

Drinkwater said the dog seen approaching the bear appeared leashed, but its owner seemed to have lost grip of the lead.

Independent consultant and biologist — and former Squamish resident — Vanessa Isnardy told The Squamish Chief that bears perceive dogs like their wild cousins, wolves and coyotes, and as a potential threat or prey.

"Individual bears are likely to respond in different ways depending on how frequently they encounter dogs and the nature of the encounter," she said in an email on Sunday afternoon.

"Some will leave to avoid harassment, but others may stand their ground and defend their offspring or food source. This can lead to the injury or even the death of your pet."

Holly Reisner, co-executive director of the  North Shore Black Bear Society told The Squamish Chief that it is important to note that the bear in this video is not being predatory, but rather defensive. 

The sow sends her cubs up a tree to protect them and then bluff charges the dog to get it to back off. 

The lunging of the dog at the bear also triggers the bear’s defensive action.

She noted that the society recommends that dogs are not only on a leash, but under full control of their owners.

Once the encounter was underway, it was wise that this pet owner and bystanders didn’t try to intervene in this case.

If people try to intervene, or if the dog comes back to their owner to seek safety, people can also be seriously hurt, Isnardy said.

She said that a review of black bear attacks on humans in North America, found that over 50% involved dogs. 

Sometimes, people with their dogs off-leash will say they have good recall of their pet, but in these situations that is a tall order, she added.

Reisner said on the North Shore they sometimes see off-leash dogs going off trail and meeting up with a bear and or its cubs. 

The bear may take a swipe at the dog, which can lead the dog to run back to the owner. The running of the dog triggers the chase response in the bear. So the dog can wind up bringing an activated black bear back to its humans.

Dogs can sometimes trigger an attack, even if on a leash, the research shows, Isnardy said. 

"Therefore, for your own safety, and that of your pet, avoid walking your pet in high-quality bear habitat where there are known bear food sources at this time of year or where female bears are known to linger with their offspring." 

(In the case of this video, the bears shown are very near a popular fenced off-leash dog park.)

Reisner added that these situations also take important feeding time and energy away from the bear and her cubs.

This time of year is critical for bears, Isnardy said, as they are in hyperphagia where they may be active for long periods, day or night, to consume upwards of 20,000 calories daily before they enter their dens, usually from November to December in our region. 

"If you have food sources on your property — organics, garbage, bird seed, fruit, etc. — keep them secure indoors and keep your fruit trees picked clean," she added. 

To report wildlife sightings or encounters, contact the 24/7 COS Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline at 1-877-952-7277.

The Squamish Chief reached out to the Conservation Officer Service and the District of Squamish Sunday (and shared the video) to see if there will be any trail or park closures in the area. We will update this story when we hear back.

**Please note that this story was updated after it was first posted to include the information from the  North Shore Black Bear Society.


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