Bears and dogs don’t mix
Bear clashes seem common in the summer, but the actual chances of an individual having an altercation with a bear are considered slim. Dogs, however, can sometimes cause attacks.
According to the Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game, there are approximately 100,000 black bears who inhabit the state. Of these, between 3,000 and 4,000 black bears live on the Kenai Peninsula. Alaska is estimated to be home to 30,000 brown bears statewide.
Yet bear attacks are rare.
According to a 2019 State Department of Epidemiology report, the average rate of hospitalizations due to bear altercations was 3.8 per year. From 2000 to 2017, there were 68 bear injuries and 10 deaths in Alaska.
To avoid unwanted contact with bears in the wild, it is important to be aware of bears, especially when playing with dogs.
Last month, a man in Montana was bitten by a bear while hiking the Upper Kenai River Trail near Cooper Landing with his young off-leash border collie. In April, three hikers have dead end with a bear at Tonsina Creek near Seward after following their dog along the trail towards them.
Leah Eskelin, park ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Services Park, said the best way to enjoy bear country with puppies is to keep them nearby.
“The best action to bring your dogs with you… is to keep them under direct control,” she said.
Eskelin said it translates differently for different dogs. For example, her puppy is used to being off-leash on her property, but she decided not to give her dog the opportunity to make bad choices in the woods or in public.
“If you have a dog in a public environment, the best practice is always to keep it on a leash,” Eskelin said.
She said Alaskan wild animals are generally curious, as are most dogs. Using a leash while recreating themselves in bear country prevents them from interacting with each other.
“There are very few dogs that have this perfect recall,” Eskelin said, pointing out that even the most well-trained puppies always choose the chase when they come in contact with squirrels and other small animals. It can also be helpful to have a dog on the trails in bear country, she said, as they can spot other predators better than humans.
But, it is safer for the welfare of not only recreating people but also pets and wildlife if dogs are kept on a leash.
“It can really uplift your experience and be a positive thing,” Eskelin said.
On July 20, the shelter will host a bear seminar outside the Visitor Center at 5 p.m. The program is free and open to the public, and does not require pre-registration.
Contact journalist Camille Botello at [email protected]