The Bear
By Ed Hockett
August 2008

Note: This article contains descriptions of a bear attack.

"That's odd," I said to myself.

I had just returned from my usual hour-long hike up Alpine Meadows Drive.  Normally our two pygmy goats would be standing at the gate of their pen chiding me for having left without them and screaming to be let out for the now imminent short walk down our meadow.  Strangely there were no goats to be seen.  I visually scoured their enclosed area and saw no sign nor heard any sound of a goat.

Clementine, specifically an African Pygmy goat, and Nell, a Nigerian Dwarf goat, had come into my life as a surprise.  On a summer day when I experienced a particularly difficult time mowing our dog yard with our rotary push mower, I complained bitterly to my wife.  I begged for a manly monster of a machine that would chew up the oak brush etc. and spit it out.  The next thing I knew we had two light-weight goats.  My wife had observed the Vaugeois' two goats and admired the work they had accomplished on the their property.  A little voyaging on the Internet and a couple of phone calls later, two recently born goats were ours.

Clemmie is mostly grey with some black patterning.  She goes about 60 lbs, and appears to be a pot-bellied stomach walking on four stubby legs.  Nellie is brown and white.  She has a little more athletic build, but is also rotund in the stomach region.  Both had their horns removed shortly after birth.  They have not clear-cut our property, but work their yard thoroughly and address weeds and brush around the house with purpose.  We were pleased to find they stay within a circumference of our house and do not wander.  Amazingly these plump animals enjoy accompanying our dogs on their walks.  I never dare to take them on my long walks up Alpine Meadows Drive into the deepest darkest parts of uninhabited southeastern Santa Fe Trail Ranch, but they regularly join my walking group of dogs for a trip down the meadow and back.  When I work in the yard, they closely follow me and simultaneously attack the same offending vegetation.  Over two years I have become quite attached to them.  They are so gentle it pains me to think of them being hurt.

So, on this day I was deeply puzzled not to find them waiting.  I wondered if they had found a way to escape their pen, and were now browsing on the other side of our house.  Before I walked all the way around the house, as a afterthought, I checked inside their shelter.  There they were! But, how curious! Since late Spring they had rarely used their shelter even in inclement weather.  Why would they be in there at walk time? When they rushed out to join the dogs and me for our walk, all was forgotten of this first sign.

Shortly after we returned from the walk, the dogs erupted into a chorus of focused barking.  I initially saw nothing, but moments later I glimpsed a bear loping up the hill on the opposite side of the meadow.  This has been an exceptionally good year for viewing wildlife in our meadow.  Nevertheless, since we have ten dogs, our viewing opportunities tend to be limited and short in duration.  We only experience a couple of furtive bear sightings each year.  They may make an appearance in the meadow, but once the dogs start barking they quickly retreat to the woods.  From there we can only catch brief glimpses of them as they move in the forest.  I did not want to lose this rare and probably fleeting chance to see an animal in the wild.

I rushed into the house to alert Judy, so we could share this opportunity to view nature.  Together we stood by the window searching the foliage where it had disappeared.  Eventually it emerged from the oak brush casually turning over rocks as it worked its way down the drainage.  It was not a big bear, but seemed somewhat larger than a yearling.  Judy retrieved the binoculars to study it.  She perceived it had very light-colored fur on its back and body, and had dark black fur on its head and legs.  It investigated rocks for some time, but in time ambled out of view into the forest.  We assumed the show was over.

Since the entertainment was concluded, I decided to resume clearing brush.  On my way to the designated work site I passed close to the spot where the bear had disappeared without incident.  My labor, however, was shortly interrupted by an encore eruption of dog barking.  I righted myself to spot the bear perusing stones in a clearing a little farther downhill.  As I watched, I noted that the bear raised its head to consider the furiously barking pack of dogs.  Surprisingly, it showed no particular concern about them or the high pitched sounds they were emitting.  It simply stared without blinking, and then resumed its business.  This nonchalance mildly alarmed me.  Still, when it disappeared into the brush I believed it would proceed to wander downhill in the tracks of all the other bears that had passed that way before.

As long as we have had the goats I have worried about their safety.  When we purchased them, I questioned the breeder about dangers they might have experienced on their farm in the mountains outside Santa Fe.  She replied that their only problems were with dogs running loose.  I accepted her answer, but always suspected we would have to deal with a mountain lion some day.  On this day, the bear offered no threat.  When it arrived the goats were browsing in oak brush close to the house.  They left their browsing to examine the visitor from our concrete drive.  They paced a little and then went into their enclosure.  At the time the only thing I thought was how different their reaction had been when they resolutely marched out to confront a flock of turkeys that had invaded their grazing territory.

The bear was then lost to my memory ...  but not for long.  The next afternoon Judy and I were reading on the deck.  Suddenly the same bear flashed across the meadow from the side where he worked the previous day to the brush bordering our drive.  "That was different," my wife and I exclaimed.  We had never seen a bear linger this long, nor had we seen one come to the side of the meadow close to the house and to the dogs.  In a few minutes my puzzlement got the better of me.  I moved to a perspective where I could gaze down the drive.  I thought I would see the bear shuffling away, but I saw nothing.  "He must have already moved out of sight," I said to myself.  Once again, the bear faded from my consciousness.

Early the next morning, Bailey, our dog with the weakest bladder, breathed sufficient heated dog breath in my ear to wake me.  So, at about 5:30 I let him and his two other weak-bladdered brothers out to relieve themselves.  I returned to bed only to have each of the three arouse me one-by-one when they felt their tasks were complete.  After the third one returned, I settled back to the sweet dreams I had been enjoying before nature called.

In previous writings I have chronicled how ineffectual I am when My sleep is disturbed.  It should not surprise you, then, that when I heard Clemmie's first bleat, it barely registered.  Goats make a variety of sounds reflecting their mood.  The only impression I had this time was that it was a very unpleasant/unhappy bleat.  Nevertheless it failed to move me.  Shortly, the bleat sounded again.  "What was that?", my startled wife asked.  Her waking instantaneously instilled guilt in me.  "That's Clemmie," I answered.  "I will get up and see what's the matter."  I then made the ultimate sacrifice for my true love.

When I reached the door I peered out the window into the goat's enclosure.  At that point, chronological time ceased and experiential time began.  What occurred in a matter of minutes and seconds seemed to stretch for hours.  In the greyish light of pre-dawn I perceived the bear standing in the goat yard.  At his feet lay the crumpled gray shape of Clemmie covered in red.  The bear seemed larger now that it loomed over the diminutive goat.  As I looked, the bear gripped Clemmie's throat in its jaws.  Nausea welled in my stomach.  I was torn emotionally by astonishment at seeing the bear in the heretofore impregnable goat enclosure and utter horror at the grisly event I was witnessing.

"God damn Bear," escaped from my lips.  Although this seemed directed at the bear, it was really a personal indictment for my delay in rising to identify the cause of Clemmie's distress, and my failure to see all the signs, all now perfectly fitting in place, foretelling this fortune.

"What do I do now?"  "Do I just watch the terrible outcome?"  My mind raced to retrieve information from storage in my brain about what to do when confronting a bear.  "Make noise!" my deep consciousness screamed.  I burst out the door yelling.  I can not tell you what I said whether it was profane or intelligible.  I was just focusing all my energy on creating a roar that would drown the noise of a jet engine.

"What is happening?", came Judy's disembodied voice behind me.

"A bear has Clemmie."  I choked.

"What?"

I was too consumed in producing sound to answer, but the piercing shriek and heart-rending wailing coming from behind signaled I did not need to elaborate.  As hard as I tried to distract the bear, it appeared it was not working.  I grabbed the solitary deck chair that sits on the back deck.  It separated from its base, and I hurled the seat over the fence.  It barely cleared the fence and had negligible effect on the bear.  As I resumed yelling, I picked up the chair base which I launched like a discus.  This only landed about half-way to the bear, but it did get the bear's attention.  It loosened its grip on Clemmie's throat and backed up a step.

Upon release, Clemmie issued a bellow colored with rage, fear, and pain.  She staggered to her feet, but collapsed after a couple of steps.  This encouraged me because it signified there was still life, but was this like a chicken with its head cut off? Was her neck broken and actually in the throes of death?

With her bellow reverberating in my ears, mind and soul, I considered the fence that separated us.  It is five feet high purposefully made to hamper the entry of all animals which now included humans.  As the bear advanced menacingly toward the fallen Clemmie, I knew I must get closer.  What I did next I do not recommend that you try at home, even though I am not a professional.

I elbowed past my wife who was too intently imitating my effort at sound production to comment on my rudeness.  I grabbed my sword and shield: in this case a ski pole and a five gallon stainless steel bucket still half-filled with water.  I ran out the front door and circled the house to arrive at the gate of the enclosure.  I procured the whole time to make as much disturbing noise as possible.  I had no real plan, but astonishingly Judy's consistent shrieking coupled with my rapid noisy advance from a different direction unnerved the bear.  It fled up hill into the brushy part of the enclosure.  I assumed it left through the hole it had dug under the fence (all totally false assumptions).

Nellie, who had apparently been the winner in the race with a bear, was standing in a side area of the enclosure.  When I opened the gate she whisked out without hesitation.  I urged the bellowing and staggering Clemmie to come to me.

"Ed, She is hurt.  Pick her up!"

The adrenaline relented enough for me to recognize the wisdom of Judy's words.  I lifted the struggling hysterical goat, and retreated.  I left the gate open recalling to always leave a bear a way out.

Huffing under the weight and lurching on the uneven ground I instructed Judy to open the garage door.  Shortly the goats and I had sanctuary in the garage.  Clemmie was bleeding profusely and I could not locate the source.  I worried that blood loss and shock could set in even if her neck was not broken.  Judy called Dr. Skip Aaroe at Fisher Peak Veterinary hospital.  It was 6:15 A.M., but as usual Dr. Aaroe was already at work.  He gave us the green light and we loaded the patient.  As we backed out of the garage, I could see the bear who had never left the enclosure, lying peacefully munching on some grass.

The half-hour trip to Trinidad was nerve-wracking.  Clemmie's consciousness wavered between lethargic and agitated with frequent bellows.  Once in the hospital, Dr. Aaroe's initial assessment was that there was hope.  He set to work cleaning the bites.  One tooth had penetrated to her neck bone which was clearly visible.  When he finished, he bandaged her neck with a heavy bandage and treated the other miscellaneous bites to the body and a long scratch on her left rear hindquarters.  Clemmie's ungainly shape among several other additional factors probably saved her life.

The next morning the bear returned.  The goats were now safely in the garage.  The bear, though, did the unthinkable.  It approached the dog gate and seized the poop bag located just outside.  This is a used 40lb. dog food bag long ago emptied of its last tiniest biscuit and already thoroughly licked clean by a minimum of three dogs.  Its last purpose in life is to be the receptacle for poop collected daily from the dog yard.  No animal in eight years has considered this an edible item.  After seizing the bag, it dragged it into the drive where it took one bite.  The fetid aroma apparently revived its senses.  To the animal's credit it desisted and has not attempted a similar attack.  Nevertheless, when I witnessed this absurdity, I concluded we had a definite problem on our hands.  In effect, we have been under siege now for over three weeks.  Every time we take goats or puppies out, the bear will pop from the woods.

When we returned from the Veterinary hospital, I immediately called Bob Holder to report the incident.  He responded quickly to my message.  As we should expect from a good Wildlife Officer, he preached the value of defense.  He encouraged me to electrify the fence of our goat enclosure.  He offered and quickly delivered rubber bullets.  He reviewed the law and indicated that if the bear entered a pen and attacked our animals or ourselves, then, we had lawful approval to use deadly force.  Shooting a bear in an otherwise unthreatening situation is, however, lawfully untenable.  He concluded by saying, "We don't want you to feel that you are alone."

Contrary to Mr. Holder's wishes, though, I have felt great loneliness through the continuing ordeal.  His conversation was appropriate and demonstrated concern for the animal and ourselves.  It then ended quickly as it was apparent he had more grievous and urgent animal matters to attend.  I was left alone to deal with the situation.  I can not complain about the subsequent sympathy and support we received from Ranch residents.  I feel we received greater backing than I recall the Vaugeois, Smiths, Tuckers, and Jordans received when they lost pets to animal predators.  Still, when the last kind word is said, I am left alone to play chess with the bear.

I understand that the bear is just being a bear.  I recall the words of Jim Davis who was then the POA President saying it was incumbent on all property owners to respect the lives of the animals and snakes that inhabited the Ranch long before us.  I remember his words much better than where I heard them , and have used them as a guide to life here.  I endeavor to follow all hints and recommendations I hear about living with bears.  This, however, is not enough.  It appears the downfall is my choice to live here and be a pet owner.  My love of animals threatens the life of one or another animal.  I now have people I deeply respect instructing me to insist that Bob Holder take the animal away.  Others tell me to take it out myself.  For the first time since my high school days I have a gun in my house.  The rubber bullets are in my right pocket and the hollow points are in the left one.  Every time a dog barks or a goat bleats my heart jumps, my stomach sinks, and the responsibility to evaluate the situation and react correspondingly weighs on me.  I find patrolling the delicate line of coexistence very lonely.  Listen ...  Is that barking?