Vermont Woman Describes Surviving Terrifying Black Bear Attack

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by Friso Gentsch/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Just before 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, Vermont resident Sarah Dietl let her Shih Tzu, Bodhi, out of the house before going to bed. Within seconds, Bodhi had ran a bear cub up a tree. Then, Dietl was fighting for her life while her head was locked in the jaws of a mother black bear.

“She came running out of the dark. She ran right to me,” Dietl told The Reformer early Thursday evening after returning from the hospital. “It was terrifying.”

Robert Montuoro, who she shares the house with, said they were maybe a foot from their door when the attack happened. As soon as the bear was upon Dietl, he ran up to it and smacked it in the head with a heavy-duty flashlight he had been carrying.

The smack was enough for the bear to let go of Dietl. Then, she and Montouro scrambled back into the house.

However, the bear was still not done with them.

“Once I pulled Sarah into the house, the bear charged the door,” said Montouro.

They were able to slam the door in its face and get a call to 911.

“I was [expletive] terrified,” said Montouro.

Southern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington treated Dietl. She is recovering and received 15 staples in her scalp. Her injuries also include “a mangled” hand, cuts to her face and a gash in her side.

Dietl and Montouro have lived in a condominium in Fox Chapel Condos & Townhouses for the past seven years.

“The response from the Police Department, the game wardens, and the EMTs … they’re all angels,” he said. He said he was proud to be a member of such a caring community.

Col. Justin Stedman, warden director for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, said bear encounters in Vermont this year are at “the highest level than we’ve ever had.”

Black Bear Victim Doesn’t Blame Animal for Attack

“Bears are intelligent creatures,” said Stedman. “They learn to associate people with food, because folks want to feed the birds, or they they want to put their garbage out. They don’t want to worry about it. These sort of things habituate bears to people, and it compounds over time.”

Stedman quickly added that Dietl and Montouro didn’t provoke the attack. He said they and their dog were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stedman also stressed that just because you don’t always see bears doesn’t mean they’re not out there.

“When you go in your house at night, they’re coming out saying, ‘Where can I find easy food before I go to sleep?’” said Stedman.

Game wardens searched the neighborhood for the black bear, its cubs and the couple’s dog after arriving at the scene. They concluded their initial search at 1:20 a.m. on Thursday without success.

Bodhi did not come home until later Thursday morning. However, he is OK, said Montouro.

Montouro also thanked family members and neighbors for their warmth during the situation. He also thanked the hospital staff at SVMC, and Homestead Landscaping of Bondville for their quick response.

“We really feel lucky to live where live here in Vermont,” he said.

Despite the horror of their close encounter, neither one blames the mother bear.

“We build condos in places where bears used to live, and we’re kicking them out,” said Montouro. “It’s not their fault.”