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Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Bear, Alaska style (aka “a fed bear is a dead bear”).

From an Anchorage Police Department press release:

“On 7-8-10 at 10:17 hours, Anchorage Police officers responded to the report of a woman chasing a black bear on the 200 block of Yellow Leaf Circle. Upon arrival, officers found that a woman…had indeed been chasing a black bear which had jumped the fence in her front yard and snatched up her pet rabbit in its teeth.

“The rabbit, known as ‘George,’ had been…known in the neighborhood because its back legs were paralyzed and his owner had fashioned a two-wheeled cart so he would have mobility.

“… George’s owner, upon hearing the cries of her rabbit, chased the bear in her stocking feet across several yards and down an alley before the bear reportedly turned and confronted her.

“The bear left the area with the rabbit.”

And this is why I love Alaska.

Now: Where to begin?

  • Should it be with “Tell me about the rabbits, George”?
  • With the paraplegic bunny and its makeshift wheelchair?
  • Or with the pursuit of a wild animal to take away its food source?

In the abstract, I am sorry the woman suffered the lost of a pet. That said, I can’t help taking a few swings.

Quality of life

The name. If one of my bunnies became paralyzed, I’d re-name him “Stu the Rabbit.” The idea of a rabbit on a cart is, to me, as unnatural as the notion of pet organ transplants. In nature, any animals that are even a little bit slower than the rest get vacuumed up by predators. That whole circle of life thing does its revolving around the grim reality of “nature red in tooth and claw.”

Of course, once I’d plugged “potage de lapin” into a recipe search engine I might not actually be able to eat the critter. (You should never name your meals.) But I would at least start to think about quality of life and whether the animal should be euthanized.

We can’t know how the rabbit felt after losing the use of its hind legs. Maybe its front legs and paws hurt all the time. Certainly people who use non-motorized chairs are at risk for tendinitis and other health conditions that result from pulling your weight (and the chair’s) around all day.

Or maybe it was perfectly content to drag itself around the yard all day. Who can say what constitutes contentment to a creature with a brain the size of a breath mint?

It’s important to note, though, that “contentment” is a human construct. Rabbits live instinctively. They don’t think, “Whew, I sure am glad that my owner rigged up this little cart so I could live an extra six months or so.” If rabbits seem happy or sad, it’s because we’re projecting our own emotions onto them. It’s called anthropomorphism, and it sells a lot of pet-care products.

Animal instincts

The locale. Anchorage is a city with black and brown (aka grizzly) bears, among other creatures. Anyone who thinks we can live “in harmony” with nature has been watching a little too much of the Disney Channel. You can do everything harmoniously and still end up mauled or dead because a bear stepped out onto the trail just as you happened to walk or bike past.

Or, maybe, because you went out to catch the school bus and surprised a bruin investigating the pizza boxes overflowing from a neighbor’s trashcan.

I suppose it was the owner’s business if she wanted to build a little cart for Bugs and let him hippety-crawl around her yard. However, that yard is in an area known to be frequented by bears. According to the police press release, a neighbor said this particular bruin has been “a problem” in the neighborhood. Residents were concerned about their kids.

So the pet owner puts ol’ George out in the front yard and faster than you can say “Meals on wheels,” Yogi has hopped the fence and scored himself a pic-a-nic.

Which brings us to…

The counterattack. I’m no wildlife biologist, but I know that you should never approach a wild animal. Even squirrels need to be left alone, so stop lobbing those peanuts from your park bench. Wild animals are unpredictable – and they should stay that way, not become acclimated to humans.

As for trying to take away a bear’s food source: Well, I’d think twice before even trying to take a bone from an elderly lapdog. Animals are hard-wired for survival. To go on surviving, they need food. They will often defend that food – and when a bear decides to fight, it’s not pretty.

Animal behavior

The biggest issue for me is that the woman did more than risk her own life by taking out after the bear. She also could have:

  • Caused injury to neighbors, since she pursued the bear across several yards
  • Caused a police officer to be injured while responding
  • Helped acclimate the bear to human contact

That last is the one that gives me pause. These animals are supposed to want to keep away from humans, not go one-on-one with us – and maybe wind up winning. If bears are going to live cheek by jowl with city residents (which current policy seems to suggest), then the residents need to behave themselves. We need to make sure the animals know to stay the hell off our property.

One way to do that is to make our landscapes unattractive to bruins: No unsecured garbage, no pet food stored outside, no fish cleaned on a picnic table that’s only casually hosed off afterwards. Leaving a helpless (and tasty!) animal out in the open in bear country is like strewing the sidewalk with Hershey bars and then complaining that kids keep making off with them.

The kids don’t know any better: They see something they want and they take it. Bears aren’t that much different than kids. Not to anthropomorphize.

Up here they say “a fed bear is a dead bear.” Garbage bears may wind up being shot because they can’t resist that trashcan buffet or the bucket of sunflower seeds someone left on the porch. They’re just doing what animals do: Seeking food and returning to where the pickings are easiest. It doesn’t get much easier than a paraplegic pet.


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11 Comments

  1. Hilarious story, though – like you – I sympathize with the woman for losing her pet. That said…

    We’ve had two incidents recently in the Knoxville area where humans were too friendly with bears and the bears wound up dead because of it.

    1) A woman left food out on her back porch for stray cats. A bear came for the food and entered her home through an open back door. She screamed, the bear got spooked and ran off. It was euthanized a couple weeks later.

    2) A man saw a bear on a hiking trail and stopped to take its photo. He kept getting closer to the bear, hoping to get a better shot, until the bear bit his foot. (Though how much of a bite it was, I don’t know, since the news article said he didn’t require medical attention.) The bear was killed by park rangers the next week.

    I know people think bears are all so cute, and we want great photos. But don’t feed (or approach) the bears! Not only are you endangering your own life but the lives of the bears as well.

  2. Bunny Owner

    I have really enjoyed this blog in the past, but now I feel the need to unsubscribe. As a rabbit owner it just hit a little too close to home and I see how our values diverge. While I do realize that your arguments about the containment of pets and how people project on their pets is accurate, I found the bit about “stu” to be rather distasteful. (no pun intended) Perhaps you could have made your argument about endangering others and wasting taxpayer money only in general, instead of kicking this specific poor woman while she is down. I want to read material that treats people with a little more respect despite any intellectual differences. You get to have your opinion and style of writing, but I am unsubscribing because this is not the kind of thing I want to read.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Bunny Owner: I don’t believe I kicked the woman when she was down. In fact, I prefaced it by saying that I am sorry she lost a pet. And I am.
      I also think that if she’d been more realistic about her surroundings she would not have had to lose the animal. She not only left a small and helpless creature outside, she put in harm’s way an animal unable to move very fast (or at all, if not for the cart). The only thing that could have kept a bear (or a cat, or a loose dog that could jump a fence) from getting the rabbit would have been a hutch made of bricks.
      The jibe about rabbits as food merely represents my feelings on the subject. Not everyone has the same sense of humor, it’s true.
      I’m sorry you feel you have to unsubscribe, but that of course represents *your* feelings on the subject.
      Thank you for leaving your thoughts.
      Best regards,
      Donna Freedman

  3. Donna Freedman

    @Red: I agree that bears are best viewed from a safe distance. It’s our own need for a thrill that often results in the animals being shot.
    A newspapering friend just e-mailed me about a bear vandalizing a car. Seems that a woman had put the garbage into the vehicle last night so she could take it to the dump today. A passing bruin thought it smelled like a midnight snack, and smashed the car window to get at the food source.
    Maybe that bear was already a garbage bear. Or maybe she’s helping turn him into one.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  4. OMG, I laughed so hard I almost stopped breathing!

    Look, she wasn’t chasing the bear to take away its lunch. She was trying to protect it from breaking its teeth on the metal lash-up she’d tied onto the rabbit!

    Bunny Owner’s a shill, right? So people like me will immediately sign up to have your posts fill up our in-boxes, by way of taking up the slack for her unsubscribing?

    The bear with the now-chipped teeth probably already was acclimatized to humans. That would make it what we call a “very dangerous bear with chipped teeth.”

  5. Deedee

    I love rabbits too…but still appreciated your use of humor to get the point across. I think @Bunny Owner is a wee bit sensitive, or perhaps does not have the same sense of humor? Anyway, everyone is different. And that is fine. I agree that anyone who leaves a crippled rabbit (or any pet) in the open where bears and other predators are known to roam is the one who is cruel to animals, not the one who uses humor in relating the story. And this woman could not have been quite right in the head to take off chasing the bear. I do feel sorry for her loss, but enjoyed your post and did not find it offensive at all.

  6. Deedee

    Oh – forgot to mention – I not only enjoyed your humor in getting your point across, I also agree with all the points you were getting across.

    (hope that made sense…)

  7. priskill

    “Stu” — hah! Too funny!

    Our big, old, fluffy bunny currently requires a bit of surgery to remove an abscess which has gone festeringly awry, and we are probably going to bite the bullet and pay for it, since he still seems full of life. But we draw the line at further procedures to remove tumors on his tubby 10 year old tummy. Sorry, Rusty! So long as he can hop around and eat, we figure he has a quality of life, which i guess explains the cart she fashioned for the victim, although that quality of life was severely compromised when he became bear bait.

    Yes, I am sorry for the woman and her loss (and I do kind of wonder how the bear managed to eat around the cart), but I agree with your points about keeping the wild in wild life. I do rather admire the owner for her valor, but bravo, DF, for not waxing all overly-sentimental about animals at the expense of common sense. Count me as a bunny owner and fan of the blog — they are not mutually exclusive!

  8. This was hilarious. I knew a rabbit rescue group and cannot imagine them suggesting a rabbit wheelchair. If some of these wack jobs are going to hide behind quality of life for their animals, then for goodness sake, consider the animal! What rabbit would be happy without its hop? Maybe I don’t have the right perspective. I am one of those people who could comfortably raise chickens, and maybe even rabbits for food. I will do what I have to for survival. We have friends that raise their own beef. They name them Angus, Fillet, Porter (as in house) and other similar identifiers. It keeps them from getting too attached, and it’s a great laugh.

  9. Donna Freedman

    @a.b.: When I get a home of my own I hope to have a couple of chickens. I already have their names picked out: “Regular” and “Extra-Crispy.”
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. Donna Freedman

    To give you an idea of ursine persistence:
    http://www.adn.com/2010/07/14/1366990/police-chase-small-black-bear.html
    Also, some reader-submitted pix:
    http://www.adn.com/2007/12/14/v-gallery/110641/bear-sightings.html
    And the Anchorage Daily News bear-sighting forum:
    http://community.adn.com/adn/node/140917

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