Update: This article has been updated to include a comment from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
A brown bear killed at least three dogs in Hoonah recently before police euthanized it — they feared the bear could have attacked a human next.
The male bear, estimated to between 4 and 5 years old, killed and stashed the remains of at least three dogs in Hoonah since late April, police say. A fourth dog was mauled but survived.
The bear believed responsible for the killings was euthanized at about 2 a.m. April 25, the Hoonah Police Department confirmed. Police killed the bear after it returned to a yard it had previously taken two dogs from.
Remains of three dogs were found partially buried in the woods near where the bear was killed, Interim Police Chief William Mills told the Empire.
“Due to the aggressive nature of the bear — and he kept continuing, we kept getting more reports of more missing dogs — officers were told if they had seen the bear described, that for the safety and protection of the community of Hoonah, the bear needed to be put down,” Mills said.
Two of the dogs lived at a residence near the edge of the woods. Another had been brought from a home a few blocks away, Mills said. Facebook posts indicate more dogs are missing in Hoonah, but Mills said they’ve only been able to confirm three dogs were killed by the bear.
The spate of pet maulings began on the afternoon of April 18, when a bear mauled a dog on a Hoonah property. Mills responded to that report, which was confirmed by the mother of the dog’s owner, who asked not to be identified. That dog survived and is doing “fine,” after receiving medical treatment in Juneau, its owner told the Empire.
That attack occurred at the same time Hoonah’s school lets out for the day, said Mills, who responded to the police call. Bears can become dangerously accustomed to humans, but typically only roam human settlements at night. The daytime attack worried Mills that the bear may have been desperate for food, making it a danger to the public.
“He’s been going after dogs, while what happens when he doesn’t get a dog? Does he go after one of the kids?” Mills said. “My main concern is the public here.”
The Empire was made aware of the pet killings by a series of social media posts.
On April 22, Hoonah resident Angie Larsen posted to the private Facebook page, “Hoonah Buy, Sell, and Trade,” that her dog, Daisy, had been missing for a few days.
“Daisy has been missing a couple days now … SHE has never left for days at a time, she always returned after a couple hours,” wrote Larsen, posting as Anjeanette Larsen Voeller.
Daisy was mostly an indoor dog, Larsen said in a Wednesday phone interview. The absence was unusual for the 11-year-old mixed-breed dog.
“I was hoping she was just hanging out with friends,” Larsen said.
Eric Larsen, Angie’s son, said Daisy bolted after she was let outside late at night a little more than a week ago. When she didn’t come back for a few days, he “just had accepted” that Daisy was gone for good.
“It took about a week before they found the dogs and actually knew what happened,” Eric said.
Two other dogs, Wasilla and Homer, went missing around the same time as Daisy. Hoonah local Josephine Knudson and her husband Mike Knudson were in Juneau shopping on April 18 when she got a text message from a friend who was housesitting. Wasilla had gone missing, the friend said.
“Then, on Saturday the 21st we got a text message from him and he said that my other dog Homer went missing. We were like, ‘That didn’t sound right at all,’” Josephine said.
Their daughter Jolene, who was in Hoonah, went to the house to investigate. Jolene found bear tracks and a dislodged running rope, Knudson said, as well as remains from one of the dogs. That’s when the Knudson’s knew what had happened. The loss was “heartbreaking,” Joesphine said.
“We miss them big time. It’s really hard for us to leave the house and not come home and see our dogs,” Josephine said.
“They were both good bear dogs, Homer had a reputation of standing up to bears,” Mike said.
Bears typically don’t attack dogs, according Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Stephanie Sell, but they do sometimes go after domesticated animals like chickens, duck, goats and cattle. Lacking further detail on the attacks, Sell said she couldn’t speculate on what caused the maulings, but she added that bears are hungry this time of year.
“It’s been a cold winter and cold spring so the vegetation bears rely on this time of year is not yet readily available,” Sell wrote in an email to the Empire.
This is at least the second run-in domesticated animals have had with bears in Hoonah this year. Earlier in the spring, a different bear attacked a cow in the Game Creek area, Mills said.
In Juneau, another pet was recently killed after a run-in with wildlife. On Monday, a wolf attacked and killed a dog near the Brotherhood Bridge Trail.
To minimize bear interactions around the home, ADFG recommends that people secure all garbage and freezers inside a building or in a bear-resistant container or shed and to freeze fish waste and smelly garbage until trash day to reduce attractive odors.
Taking down bird feeders from April-October can help, as well as not leaving pet food outside. Fish and meat smokers, as well as livestock pens, should be protected with an electric fence and barbecue grills should be cleaned after each use and brought inside if possible.
More tips on how to live safely in bear country can be found at adfg.alaska.gov.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at firstname.lastname@example.org and 523-2228. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.