Vermont Woman Attacked by Black Bear, Saved By Her ‘Barking Dog’

by Jon D. B.

If not for her dog, this 61-year-old Stafford, Vermont woman could’ve become another rare black bear fatality while in her own yard.

According to Vermont Fish and Wildlife, Susan Lee, 61, was attacked while on her Stafford property Saturday, August 20. Thankfully, her dogs were present and one of them managed to “lure the animal away from her.”

VFW game wardens report Lee was “walking on her property” that day with her two dogs. After hearing a loud noise, the 61-year-old realized a black bear was charging her.

Lee tripped and fell during the encounter before feeling pain in her upper leg. She then realized the bear was on top of her and had bitten her leg. At this moment, her Jack Russell terrier came to her rescue. The dog barked fiercely at the bear, drawing its attention. This drew the attacking bear off of Lee, possibly saving her life.

Thankfully, Lee was able to return to her house with both dogs. The black bear wasn’t seen again. Afterward, she received treatment at the local hospital for the bite wound on her upper leg. In addition, Lee suffered lacerations between 2-and-9-inches long on both sides of her body. Local WCAX 3 reports that none of her injuries are life-threatening.

Black Bear Disappears after Bold Attack

The outlet reports that Fish and Wildlife biologists investigated the attack site afterwards, but found no trace of the bear. It is their opinion, however, that this was a black bear sow with cubs. The attack may have been caused by Lee’s dogs surprising the mother bear.

“Bear attacks are extremely rare in Vermont,” Fish and Wildlife Department Bear Biologist Jaclyn Comeau says in a statement following the attack. “However, at this time of year black bears are moving in family units and mothers will be protective of their cubs.”

“If confronted by a bear it is essential to remain calm and back away slowly, and to fight back immediately if attacked,” Comeau offers.

Comeau says the department has records of only three prior bear attacks in Vermont. Regardless, being BearWise is of utmost importance in bear country.

BearWise offers Six Basics for being outdoors in bear country:

  • Stay Alert & Stay Together: Pay attention to your surroundings and stay together. Walk, hike, jog, or cycle with others when possible. Keep kids within sight and close by. Leave earbuds at home and make noise periodically so bears can avoid you.
  • Leave No Trash or Food Scraps: Double bag your food when hiking and pack out all food and trash. Don’t burn food scraps or trash in your fire ring or grill. Leaving scraps, wrappers, or even “harmless” items like apple cores teaches bears to associate trails and campsites with food.
  • Keep Dogs Leashed: Letting dogs chase or bark at bears is asking for trouble; don’t force a bear to defend itself. Keep your dogs leashed at all times or leave them at home.
  • Camp Safety: Set up camp away from dense cover and natural food sources. Cook as far from your tent as possible. Do not store food, trash, clothes worn when cooking, or toiletries in your tent. Store in approved bear-resistant containers OR out of sight in a locked vehicle OR suspended at least 10 feet above the ground and 10 feet from any part of the tree. (Bill and GRSM recommend 4 feet from tree trunks).
  • Carry Bear Spray, Know How To Use It: Bear spray is proven to be the easiest and most effective way to deter a bear that threatens you. It doesn’t work like bug repellent, so never spray your tent, campsite or belongings.
  • *Know What To Do If You See a Bear

For further information on how to navigate bear country responsibly, and deter or survive a black bear attack, see the our Surviving a Black Bear: How to Prevent Encounters and Deter an Attack next.