There's a Bear in the House!

In case you don't think life is exciting at Lake Tahoe, I have a story for you! 

It’s one of those things I never thought would happen to me, but it did – I had a bear in my house.

I watch dogs and often have a posse of canines asleep in my living room with more in the bedroom but this particular night was just me, my dog and four cats.

Asleep we all were when there arose such a clatter! Actually, I heard my dog flop down by my bed, which woke me up. Then I heard some rustling in the kitchen which I thought was a cat on the counter, so I yelled out, “Bad kitty!”

Now there was such a clatter that I knew was no cat. Still partly asleep, I leapt out of bed just as I heard a crash, which sounded like something had broken.

I flipped on the light and stood in the living room, trying to figure out what had just happened. Was it an earthquake? Did I imagine it?

I noticed the carpet was damp and there was an odd smell. Then I saw that a few cupboards were open, a bag of Craisins was on the floor, dirt and water on the counter and papers had been shuffled around. Certainly a raccoon, I thought, but how?

I finally noticed that the screen was missing on the window by the door, a narrow window that had been left open. I also saw that the gate on the deck and been broken open so I knew it was not a raccoon, but a bear.

Since it was but 4:30 in the morning and the bear had fled in response to “Bad kitty,” I decided to try to go back to sleep. I shut the window and put a board in the track and climbed back into bed, listening for sounds in the night.

Amazingly, I did drift back to sleep, pondering how it was that my dog, a large golden retriever, who loves to chase bear, did not bark.

Coming up on 6:00, I awakened to more odd sounds. Jumping out of bed, this time I see the bear. He’s outside on the deck, scratching at the small garden windows. I yelled and ran outside, calling to my dog to give chase, which she did and what do you know, there were two bears.

They weren’t huge, but by no means small, so I concluded they were yearlings, most likely recently released by Mama Bear to forage on their own.

Later in the day I was telling my mother about it and she said, “Oh, you must move away!” And then, “You need to call animal control.”

Of course I won’t be moving away and I certainly won’t be calling animal control, I tell her. It’s up to me to secure my fortress. I left the window open, something one is not supposed to do in bear country. These bears are hungry and stressed due to the drought and desperate to find food.

So here’s what to do:

  • Close windows that are accessible.
  • Lock doors, windows and your car.
  • Sprinkle ammonia near decks and doorways, spray some on windows and screens.
  • Yell! Stand your ground but DO NOT get between the bear and his escape route. He wants to get out even more than you want him out.
  • And here is my best tip, one that was invented by my ex-husband and this really works: Hang bells. He hung bells on a rope, added some light chain, and strung it across the deck at the bottom of the stairs.

I’ve never had a bear cross this light-weight contraption of bells, rope and chain. In fact, one night my husband saw a bear approach the back deck stairs. The bear stopped and swayed for a moment, then turned and lumbered away.

I got out of the habit of stringing the bells as it’s been so long since I’ve had any bear activity but I won’t make that mistake again.

I was lucky. A bear in your house can do a lot of damage. I got away with six torn screens, a broken vase, dirt and slobber on the counter, four wide-eyed cats and a slightly embarrassed dog.

Hopefully these two young bears were frightened enough by this experience to not try that again but, just in case, hang a few bells around your house. Keep yourself and our bears safe.

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