An Amery man who recently faced the tragedy of losing their family pet from a bear attack is hoping that by sharing his story, others will not go through the same pain.
Thursday, June 4, Steve Schmidt pulled into his driveway on the outskirts of town around 4:30 and found their family’s dog, Molly, waiting inside the house for her late-afternoon walk, like she did every weekday for as long as Schmidt can remember.
“She was a routine freak that could tell time like a clock and this walk was routine for us along with our lunch walk and our after supper walk,” said Schmidt.
Numerous times a day, Schmidt would walk 11 ½ year-old Molly through a short path in the woods behind their home and up to a clearing where he kept a walking path mowed for the English Springer Spaniel.
During the afternoon of June 4, Schmidt said, “We reached the top of a hill just 40 yards away from the house in a lightly wooded area. Molly was 20 feet ahead of me when she suddenly ran off the trail into the woods. I looked ahead of her to see what she was after but I didn’t see anything. I suspected it was a chipmunk or a squirrel because she loved to chase them constantly.”
Molly disappeared from his view over a slight hill about 50 feet away. The next thing he saw was a dark shape going up the trunk of a small tree.
“My first thought was that it was a raccoon. The second shape I saw go up the same tree was pitch black and I instantly knew this was not going to be a routine walk. The third bear cub followed shortly after the second,” said Schmidt.
He immediately scanned his surroundings for the mother bear and began yelling for Molly. Schmidt said, “I heard her cry out from the direction of the tree the cubs had just climbed. I ran over the little hill to discover Molly in the mouth of the bear, being mauled.”
He said many of the events that happened next are a blur, but he remembers picking up a fallen tree limb and running toward them and throwing it at the bear from a distance of about 40 feet. The branch landed just short of the two of them. He said, “The bear released Molly and quickly charged at me. I turned and started running back the way I had come from, but I quickly realized that the bear would catch me and attack from behind, if I kept running. I stopped and picked up another tree limb to arm myself and turned to face it. I raised the dead branch to strike the bear and it stopped abruptly about 6 feet away and turned back toward Molly.”
Schmidt sprinted for the house to alert his family and get a gun. He returned with a shotgun and fired two times to drive the bear back into the woods so he could rescue Molly.
“I found Molly lying motionless and bleeding from several places. I scooped her up and ran to the house with her in my arms while yelling for my wife to call an emergency vet hospital. I placed her on the tailgate of my truck so I could evaluate her injuries. My daughter Abby kept pressure on her most obvious wound to her chest while I examined the rest of her,” he said.
Schmidt quickly realized that Molly was too injured to be saved as she had multiple puncture wounds to the head, neck and chest. She was still alive but they had her put to sleep at a veterinarian office a short time later.
“I never thought I would lose her like that. She was getting older and having some arthritis issues and I knew at some point we would probably have to make a decision, but you can plan that and prepare yourself for it. This was just boom- within 10 seconds it was too late and we had no chance of a proper goodbye,” he said.
It has been a rough week, but Schmidt and his family are thankful he wasn’t physically harmed. He is struggling with feelings of regret that he couldn’t save Molly. He wonders what he could have done differently. Schmidt wonders if they should have walked Molly on a leash, but said she hated them. He said, “You have to weigh the risks and benefits. Her quality of life out here was amazing, she loved the yard and woods and I do not know if it would have been the same with the leash.”
He doesn’t endorse handling the situation the way he did, but he just instinctively acted on the spot.
He said, “The main reason it happened is we did not know she and the cubs were there and she didn’t know we were there.”
He advises that if anyone is walking in a place where there might be low visibility, even tall grass, to make some noise, such as with a whistle before you head in, to give bear a few minutes to get their cubs and evacuate the area. “She didn’t want to encounter us, but we didn’t give her a choice,” Schmidt said.
The Mama bear and her cubs were eventually captured and relocated. Relocation involves capturing an animal and releasing it in a safer or more suitable area, away from potential conflicts with humans. Capturing and moving a bear is sometimes necessary and may be the only nonlethal option in busy human-use areas.
Schmidt said they have seen bear occasionally over the past 20 years they have lived at their home. It had been over five years though since they had seen one. His neighbor had recently spotted this mother and cubs and told them about it. “I didn’t expect them to be sitting this close to our house at that time of day,” he said. “I think it is important that people know we were not out walking in the middle of nowhere. We are two-miles out of town, and this happened 40 to 50 yards from our house,” said Schmidt. He believes they are becoming much more prevalent in the area. He said, “I never encountered a bear while walking Molly before. I almost wish I had. I wish we would have had a close call at some point that might have ended differently and prepared me. I am hoping this story is enough of a close call for others,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said, “Molly was the sweetest being our family has ever known. Anyone that visited our house or encountered us walking on our road, was greeted by Molly with eager love and affection. Our family will forever love her and miss her dearly.”