Pit bulls, bears, and lipstick: more attacks involving animals

Lessons learned from the places where people, animals, and politics collide.
Crosscut archive image.

Black bear in the woods. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Lessons learned from the places where people, animals, and politics collide.

Folks in Seattle and King County are tired of pit bull attacks — the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Dave Horsey makes the case for banning the dogs, comparing them to assault weapons. In fact, he notes, they're worse. A human intelligence guides a gun, as the saying goes, "guns don't kill people, people kill people," a slogan I've never found particularly reassuring. But assault weapons don't have minds of their own and don't seek to jump the fence and munch on a neighbor. My own complaint is how many pit bull owners seem to be smaller and weaker than their dogs. It's not reassuring when you see a pit bull taking its owner out for a drag.

But Seattle's animal worries are better than what folks have to contend with up in Anchorage, Alaska, where grizzly bears attack folks in city parks or worse, mess up the commute. In August, a good citizen of Anchorage was driving through town when he slammed into a grizzly. The wounded griz then experienced a major case of road rage and had to be put down while the driver huddled in his SUV. The bear was in no mood to exchange insurance info.

And before you blame the driver for just being another a-hole in an SUV, or blame the bear for being an irresponsible pedestrian, there's proof that all forms of transportation have bear problems. Bears have been known to attack cyclists, but in Montana recently, a cyclist flying along a path on the way to his job as a school teacher broadsided a bear. The cyclist went flying, the bear landed on the biker's head, cracking his helmet, and then ran like heck, probably fearing retaliation by Critical Mass anarchists.

And even boaters aren't safe. On Vancouver Island, a black bear swam across a river, leaped into a boat and mauled a fisherman. The attack was so ferocious, other fishermen could not pry the bear loose with pikes and had to slit its throat in order to stop the attack. Authorities are baffled by the single-mindedness of the attack — the bear bypassed a man cleaning fish on a dock in order to chomp on the fisherman it chose. In a further attempt to reassure nervous Canadians, the provincial authorities reminded people that in Beautiful British Columbia, more than 700 bears a year are killed due to encounters with humans. What a relief. I only start worrying when the count gets over 1,000.

One thing I have not mentioned before in my stories about animal attacks is that the well-traveled Westerner knows that place names matter. If a place is called Dry Gulch, don't expect to find water. If a housing development is called Whispering Pines, don't expect to find trees. Simple rules. Okay, so here's a quiz: If you're camping at a place called Beartooth Mountain, what might you find? Well, if you're attacked by a bear there, it's not ironic. It's truth in labeling.

A Springfield, Oregon man on a trip to Montana found this out when his tent was savagely attacked by a bear on Beartooth Mountain. He was saved because his tent was hard to rip. Why? Because it was an REI tent made of rip-stop nylon, which, I guess, works better to stave off bears than a blue tarp and duct tape. The shredded tent was happily replaced by the company, which also gave the camper some bear spray to make the rip-stop stink. The place where the attack occurred has been officially renamed Holy Shit, A Bear Tried to Eat Me Here campground.

I had a bear encounter myself the other day, though no biting, ripping, or eating was involved. On a beautiful September morning, my partner and I went to Sunrise at Mount Rainier and spotted a momma black bear and her two cubs in a high mountain meadow, presumably stuffing themselves on herbs and berries before winter. This, of course, is where bears ought to be. They weren't in our house with a case of the munchies, nor were they soaking in a backyard bird bath. Nor were they running around with their heads stuck, like-Pooh, in a jug.

We were far enough away across a valley to be safe and were watching them with a pair of high-powered Nikon binoculars. I can say with certainty that the bears in the meadow in no way resembled a woman bending over on a trail. Being in a National Park, none of us were in danger of being bagged and tagged by teenage hunters.

Upon returning home, however, we opened the newspapers to scary wildlife of a different sort: Wall Street's bears and political predators, pigs and pit bulls with lipstick.

I feel safer in the woods.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.