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Man and pet rescue each other from beast's teeth
A pit bull takes a mauling from a bear for his master
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Tom Tilley realized trouble was following him on the lush forested trail when his dog started to growl.
A loyal companion who goes with Mr. Tilley on his annual canoe trips to Northern Ontario, Sam, a five-year-old pit bull, often lets out a booming bark. But he doesn't growl.
"Something was wrong," Mr. Tilley said. "That's when I turned around."
About six metres behind him, an 82-kilogram black bear was treading stealthily on the trail.
But while the snarl alerted Mr. Tilley to the bear's presence, both companions played an equal part in this story about a man and his dog and how they escaped a bear. One took a mauling to save his master; the other killed the bear with a hunting knife to save his dog.
Last Thursday, with the morning sun shining over Lake Abbey, near Wawa, Ont., Mr. Tilley, a Waterloo resident, began his fourth day of a two-week trip by portaging his canoe on a short trail. He returned for his gear, spotted the bear, and started moving backward.
He said the bear disappeared into the forest but re-emerged on the trail, cutting off his escape. As Mr. Tilley unsheathed his Buck hunting knife, the dog sprang in front of his master, turned sideways and stood its ground. The bear lunged forward, plunging its fangs into the pit bull's white hide.
Mr. Tilley said his fear turned to rage.
"All I could see was my beloved canine friend getting chomped on, and the immediate thought was: 'You're not going to kill my dog!' "
Mr. Tilley said he jumped on the bear's back, clutching it with his left hand, while with his right hand he thrust the six-inch blade into its throat. The knife slid in to the hilt. The bear loosened its grip on the dog.
But Mr. Tilley was not quite finished: "I kept it up until he had stopped moving. I told my dog, 'Go back, go back. Stay away.' "
After the bear drew its last breath, Mr. Tilley set out in his canoe, preparing for a two-day trip back to the nearest community.
An hour later, with flies swarming over Mr. Tilley's and Sam's open wounds, the man saw two white points on the horizon.
Tourists from Michigan, equipped with a satellite phone, were fishing on the lake. They called in a hydroplane, which ferried the two companions to a Wawa hospital. The dog bore a wide gash across his back, and Mr. Tilley was suffering from a lacerated thumb, which later required plastic surgery.
That same night, Mr. Tilley and Sam drove back to Waterloo. On the way home, he said he teared up as he looked at the injured dog. Since Mr. Tilley's daughter, 25, and his son, 34, left home five years ago, Sam, an American Staffordshire, has been Mr. Tilley's constant companion. At 55, Mr. Tilley, who is a courier by trade, has had trouble finding friends who could travel . Sam could. And now, the dog had saved his life.
While Mr. Tilley convalesced at home, an employee with Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources recovered the bear's bloody carcass. An autopsy will be held to determine whether the bear suffered from rabies or any other disease that would explain its aggressive behaviour, ministry spokeswoman Jolanta Kowalski said.
In this case, the bear might have simply considered Sam as prey.
About 10 people have been killed by bears over the past 100 years in Ontario, according to ministry statistics. Most recently, Jacqueline Perry, a young Cambridge, Ont., doctor, was killed by a black bear last September. Her husband had attempted to fight the animal with a Swiss Army knife.
The highly publicized mauling prompted Mr. Tilley to walk into a Canadian Tire this spring and buy his own hunting knife. He hoped never to use it, he said.
But his encounter with the black bear hasn't dampened his love of the outdoors.
"My daughter tells me I'm not allowed to go back. I left my canoe there, knowing that I'll go back to get it."
There are 75,000 to 100,000 black bears in Ontario, concentrated mainly in the central and western parts of the province.
While it is illegal to kill a black bear without a permit, Ms. Kowalski said Mr. Tilley will probably not be charged because he acted in self-defence. But she also warned the public against trying to repeat a similar feat.
"We do not recommend that people jump on bears to try to fight a bear off somebody's dog," she said.
Mr. Tilley said the impulse to protect his dog was visceral. Besides, he added, Sam saved his life.
"I hadn't heard anything, and without the dog's warning the first thing I might have known would have been [the bear's] jaws on my neck."
If you see a bear
Face the bear. Do not run. If you are with others, stay together. Make sure the bear has a clear escape route, then yell and wave your arms to make yourself look bigger. Use a whistle or air horn, if you have one. The idea is to be aggressive and persuade the bear to leave. This will work if it is afraid of humans. If these attempts fail to frighten the bear, slowly back away while giving the bear a wide berth. Climbing a tree to get away may offer little protection, as black bears are excellent climbers. A bear may stand upright, swat or beat the ground with its forepaws or even bluff charge -- a way of saying you are too close. Back off and give the bear more space. If the bear comes within range, use pepper spray if you have it.