Bear Kills Sled Dog

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / July 1, 2004

Rather than leave his prize lead dog, Mandy, in Tanana for the summer with his four other sled dogs, Martin Scharf decided to bring her to Fairbanks so he could look after her.

But when a bear attacked the dog in Scharf's yard near 4.5 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road early Wednesday morning, there wasn't much he could do.

"I just heard the dog barking, then she started yelping," Scharf said of his 9-year-old leader.

Scharf, 59, ran outside to break up what he figured was a fight with a stray dog, only to realize it wasn't a dog attacking Mandy.

"I ran out and yelled and the bear looked up and bolted," said Scharf, who lives on Esro Road off Chena Hot Springs Road. "It sure surprised me."

With visibility reduced because of smoke from wildfires and the early hour--it was about 1 a.m.--Scharf wasn't able to determine whether it was a grizzly or black bear.

"I couldn't tell with the smoke," he said.

The dog wasn't dead when Scharf reached her, but "I could tell she was hurt pretty bad," he said. The dog died shortly afterward.

Barb Harris, an animal tender at Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Control, examined the dog when Scharf brought it to the shelter to be cremated and said the dog's wounds were substantial. Both sides of its rib cage were punctured and torn, she said.

The bear didn't have time to eat the dog, Scharf said.

"I believe the bear was just getting ready to start on that part when I came out," he said.

The incident came as a surprise to state wildlife biologist Don Young at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"You hear about wolves coming in and doing that but typically bears seem to just eat dog food and leave the dogs alone," said Young, recalling a grizzly bear and two cubs that frequented several dog yards in Two Rivers two years ago without harming any dogs. "I wouldn't say it doesn't happen but it's pretty rare."

Scharf, who works as a dispatcher for the Bureau of Land Management in the summer and lives in Tanana in the winter, said he fed Mandy about two hours before the attack.

She's not a fast eater and there was still food in her dish when the bear showed up, he said.

"The only thing I can thing I can think of is that the bear might have smelled the dog food," he said.

Young reminded people to keep their yards clean of garbage and dog food, both of which attract bears.

"We've got bears all around town, we live with bears," he said. "People need to take the necessary precautions."

The biologist also noted that the season is open for black bears, in the event one does show up.

"If someone has a hunting license they can legally harvest a black bear and take care of the problem themselves," he said.

While the season for grizzly bears is closed, "If it's killing their dogs then they could shoot it in defense of life and property, as long as they didn't have an attractive nuisance," Young said.

The bear hasn't been seen since the attack but residents in the area should keep an eye out and call Fish and Game at 459-7206 if they see it, Young said.

News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at and 459-7587.

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