“This area has changed.”
Those words muffled out of Ducky Wing’s mouth, a Soundside Drive resident who said her daughter was attacked by a Florida Black Bear early last Wednesday morning. A black bear, who she said also attacked her daughter’s dog unprovoked, killing it.
Wing’s comment about the area changing was in regards to the increase in bear sightings and attacks that she’s personally witnessed over the past decade at her home.
Florida Black Bears are not known to attack humans, but the Gulf Breeze resident alleged one did Wednesday morning, and it was her own daughter, Sonthe, and her youngest daughter’s dog.
Wing said her daughter was suffering insomnia and got up early last Wednesday morning to go outside. Wing said that her 27-year-old daughter only went outside of the home to have a cigarette and took her younger sister’s 10-year-old Pomeranian/Sheltie with her. While everyone was inside the home asleep, Wing said the dog was allegedly just sniffing around the outside of the home minding its own business.
“It was doing its normal thing when it goes outside…just sniffing around,” Wing said.
That’s when, out of nowhere, two Florida Black Bears appeared and snatched the dog up, Wing said.
“My daughter said it happened so fast she barely had time to react,” Wing said.
So quickly, that the 27-year-old had to think on her feet and ran towards the two bears in an attempt to get the 18-pound dog out of the grasp of the bears.
“She got close enough that she was able to smack the dog out of one of the bear’s mouth,” Wing said. “And she tried to run away.”
But her effort to save the dog was cut short, according to Wing, when she tripped running back to the house. That’s when Wing alleged her daughter was attacked by the bears.
“The jumped and ripped her pocket and tore the back of her pants,” Wing said. “She had to crawl back into the house because she couldn’t get back up.”
Despite her alleged cries for help, no one inside the home woke up during the attack.
“If that bear had gotten ahold of her and dragged her into the woods, we would have never thought to look into there for her,” Wing said.
The Gulf Breeze resident said that the dog allegedly did nothing to the bears to provoke them and that bear attacks on animals have become more prevalent in her neighborhood over the last several years.
“They’ve attacked a neighbor’s dog and it’s lived. They’ve killed a goat one of my neighbors had, and we think it attacked my cat one time about 6 months ago. But luckily the cat escaped,” Wing said.
A scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission eventually responded to the site of the alleged bear attack and filed a report.
The incident report indicated that Wing’s daughter’s dog did intentionally attack the bear, according to the report taken by the FWC officer who responded after the incident.
“In this incident, the dog was not leashed and rushed towards the bears barking and lunging at them,” said FWC spokeswoman Bekah Nelson. “We believe this caused the adult female bear to become defensive of her yearling, so she swatted and bit the dog.”
Nelson also said, according to the family’s original accounts given to the responding FWC officer, that Wing’s daughter was never even attacked by the bear.
“The woman approached the bears and retrieved her dog, then ran back to her house. While the bears did follow the woman, they did not chase or make any contact with her,” Nelson said about the report that was taken following the incident.
Nelson said Florida Black Bear attacks on humans are extremely rare.
“The last confirmed human injury was on October 23, 2015 in Eastpoint (Franklin County) where a man approached cubs, then opened a dumpster and an adult female bear came out, knocked him down, and scratched him,” Nelson said. “Florida Black Bears are typically shy and try to avoid people. They can lose their natural fear of people if they continually get rewarded with food like unsecured trash, bird seed, or pet food when they come into neighborhoods.”
Wings’ daughter’s dog eventually passed away from the injuries it suffered during the bear attack after they rushed it to an emergency veterinarian clinic in Pensacola.
“We’ve lived amongst the bears for 8 years now, and all of a sudden things have changed,” Wing said. “Now they’re killing people’s pets and livestock. Had this been someone’s child, they would have been killed. We don’t know what these things are capable of.”
Just a week after Wing’s daughter’s dog was attacked, there was a report of another bear attacking a dog just blocks away on Ponderosa Drive.
The Ponderosa Drive resident had just moved into the home a week prior and was somewhat aware that there were bears in the area, but didn’t think they would attack his dog, a Pit Bull.
The resident, Ryan Nelson, was asleep at around 2 a.m. when he was awoken by barks coming from his two dogs. When he went to the window to look into his backyard to see what the dogs were barking at, he came face to face with a 4-foot, 300 lb. Florida Black Bear, which had climbed his fence and made his way up onto the man’s porch.
One of his dogs retreated after the bear allegedly started acting aggressive and came into the house through the doggy door, but Ryan said his Pit Bull wasn’t having it.
“The bear started attacking my Pit Bull, and (the bear) had the dog pushed back in a corner, and he swiped at her and pushed her into a corner,” Ryan said.
That’s when the Pit Bull fought back and started scratching the bear, but the bear fought back more aggressively, mauling the dog, Ryan said.
Eventually the bear ran off, and Ryan had to rush his dog to a veterinarian clinic.
“She’s got a good gash on one side of her tail and a good gash on another side of her tail. It looks like a tooth mark,” Ryan said.
Ryan said his neighbor told him that the bears typically don’t bother the residents, and usually nose through the garbage cans. Nelson said that his garbage can was not in the backyard.
“I don’t have anything back there food wise so I don’t know why he was in my backyard. He had to climb a 7 or 8 foot fence just to get back there,” he said.
Ryan said he got in touch with FWC who sent a biologist out to his home.
Nelson said FWC did go out to his home to do a report on the incident.
“When you wake up from a dead sleep and see a bear right there, I didn’t know how to take it. The bear was definitely being aggressive,” Ryan said.
The resident sad what worries him the most is the fact that he has a young daughter that he doesn’t want in harm’s way.
“I mean if they attack a dog, why wouldn’t they attack a human?” Ryan said. “I have a 2-year-old daughter. It’s one thing to attack a dog, but I have a daughter and I can’t have that.”
Wing said when FWC responded to her home to take a report on the incident, they put a bait trap out for the bear. And four days later, she said FWC came and picked the trap up without a bear in it.
“These bears are too smart to walk into a cage. They’ve opened my garage and stole the cat food out of it. These bears are evolving. We’re taking over their environment and they’re trying to find ways to survive,” Wing said.
But Nelson said FWC didn’t just “place a trap”. The agency is allegedly monitoring the area for the bears and keeping a close eye on the neighborhood.
“FWC is attempting to trap and remove these bears. People should always have control over their pets, either keeping them on a leash or in a fenced yard to prevent situations that can lead to a safety risk to their pets,” Nelson said. “FWC decides how to respond to a request for assistance depending on the circumstances of each situation. FWC will attempt to trap and humanely kill any bear that exhibits behaviors that we consider to present a risk to public safety. Bears that are in neighborhoods, but not yet used to people may be relocated depending on the situation.”
According to Wing, her backyard is not fenced in.
Nelson said bear-related calls to the FWC have been steadily increasing statewide. In 2010 there were 4,196 reports of bear sightings statewide and in 2015 there were 6,094. Calls from the Navarre/Gulf Breeze area in 2010 numbered 377 calls, and in 2015, the agency received 280 calls.
Florida Black Bear season was OK’d to reopen in certain parts of Florida last year, but Nelson said the west Panhandle does not have an active Florida Black Bear season.
“FWC is not considering opening a hunting season in the west Panhandle,” Nelson said.
Nelson said that despite Wing’s accounts, people should look after their pets if they go outside to ensure they are safe — especially at night.
“If you encounter a bear in your neighborhood, get in a secure location like your doorway or vehicle and then be sure the bear has a clear escape route. Then you should try to scare the bear away by yelling, clapping your hands, or using an air or car horn. Once the bear has left, look for what may have attracted the bear near your home. Is there unsecured garbage, bird seed, pet food, or any other items that the bear may have been feeding on? If so, secure them so the bear does not have a reason to spend time near your home,” Nelson said.
Wing said that when FWC was called out, they didn’t seem “concerned about her well being”.
“The FWC is more focused on protecting the bears than they are humans,” Wing said. “There is a lot more they can do than just leave a cage out for four days. These bears are too smart and can figure out not to go in them. This could have been someone’s kids. We constantly have to watch our backs in this neighborhood because we’re afraid one might attack us or one of our children.”
But according to Nelson, Florida Black Bear attacks on human are extremely rare, and the agency did what it could to resolve the incident.
“Less than 5 percent of the over 6,000 calls we receive each year involve bears and pets, and among those incidents it is rare that a person becomes directly involved,” Nelson said. “The bears have not been captured at this time, but FWC is monitoring the area in the event they are observed again.”