Dog, bear clash in Patterson

PATTERSON, La. -- Gauge, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, is recovering after squaring off with a bear south of the railroad tracks in Patterson.

He got into a fight with a Louisiana black bear Tuesday night, according to his owner, Marvin Ellis. The hunting dog, who lives on Kem Street, sustained injuries to his left hind leg from the thigh to the paw. Gauge received about 100 stitches, according to Ellis.

Ellis says he knows which of the four bears that roams his neighborhood is the culprit.

“We know which one attacked him. He weighs about 500 pounds … It’s actually the same bear that charged at me last year,” he said.

Maria Davidson, state Wildlife and Fisheries large carnivore program manager said “the dog that was injured has a history of chasing bears. We’ve warned those residents numerous times in the last year.”

She also said that while bears can be predatory, she doesn’t believe that was the case last week.

“Bears can be predatory. They are typically not very predatory in Louisiana, and that’s not what happened in this case. (Chesapeake Bay retrievers) are bold dogs. That’s in their nature. It’s part of what makes them such a good hunting dog. It’s a typically aggressive breed. The dog took the fight to the bear in this case,” Davidson said.

She added that a neighbor saw the dog confront a bear earlier in the day, but no one witnessed the actual attack.

Davidson said there have been ongoing problems in the area, but it’s because the bears are looking for a source of food which is readily available in neighborhoods. When residents don’t comply with requests to use their bear-proof garbage cans, or overstuff them and leave the tops open, the easy food source high in calories attracts the bears, she said.

Another high calorie food source is dog food left outside.

“The residential area south of tracks in Patterson has so much garbage available to bears that it’s impossible for them to resist,” Davidson said.

It’s the time of year where there is a natural food shortage, which is why bears den anyway. On the coast, the bears are so thin going into this season, it’s impossible for them to den, Davidson explained.

“There are some people who are very diligent about any attractant and then they are upset because their neighbor doesn’t take the same precautions,” Davidson said.

She said her department spent at least $250,000 to supply the bear-proof trash cans, funds a bear conflict officer for the parish, has set traps, has spent numerous nights in their vehicles trying to deter the bears from coming into the neighborhood, partnered with the parish for a grant, installed cameras to determine what times the bears are in the neighborhood, and works with the parish, city and their garbage contractor.

“The take-home message is the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is using every tool at its disposal … Everybody has to take some responsibility and do what they need to do,” Davidson said.

Trapping the bears only meets with limited success and is generally a last resort for the department because of a lack of open forest to relocate them, she said.

You can’t relocate a fully adult bear. They will immediately begin trying to walk home … (however) a sub-adult male bear is going to travel great distances anyway. It’s in their nature,” Davidson said.

“If I went to Patterson today and I caught every bear that’s coming into these neighborhoods, shortly they would be replaced with other bears,” she said. “The garbage is the problem.”

She also noted that she caught her first bear in Louisiana on Leo Street 17 years ago.

Patterson Mayor Rodney Grogan said he is trying to stay away from creating more laws, instead opting to educate the public first. He said bears were quite active this weekend, noting that he received calls all weekend about them.

Neighbors need to call if they see something that is not being done under ordinance or if there is a problem with the bears, he said.

Grogan plans to call a town hall meeting for the public within the week to address what people can do to keep bears out of the neighborhood and what residents’ rights are if confronted by a bear.

“Everybody has their role,” to assist in keeping bears in their natural habitat — and out of residential neighborhoods, Davidson said.

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