Terri Gurley held on tightly as her dog Riley jerked at the leash and began to growl at the darkness early Friday morning.
The 57-year-old woman turned her head after tossing her pup's waste into the trash compactor of her Seminole County apartment complex when she came within five feet of a 300-pound female black bear.
Scared stiff, Gurley conjured all she knew about the beasts. They are typically docile. They scare easy. Just ignore it and it will go away.
But this sow wasn't in the mood. Her yearling cub was nearby and this dump was her "feeding ground."
Gurley stepped backward slowly, keeping a tense hold of her Akita-Shepherd mix. But she stumbled and fell toward the pavement, hitting her head.
The bear seized toward Gurley, who came face to face with the angry, territorial mother.
"I could feel her breath on me. I've never been so terrified in my life," she said. "I guess by instinct I rolled over so she wouldn't hurt something vital. I didn't know what she was going to do and then the bear bit me in my butt."
Her blood-curdling screams awoke neighbors in the Camden Club apartments, who called 911 and ran out to their balconies to direct her away from the bear.
Gurley said she doesn't even remember standing up but she moved toward the voices. Residents rushed to Gurley – one was carrying a bat – and noticed she was bleeding.
The animal followed her as she tried to get away.
Seeing this, a neighbor in a truck drove toward Gurley and flashed the headlights to frighten the mammal away. Residents put the woman in an ambulance. It all happened just before 7 a.m., she said.
She suffered four puncture wounds that will heal faster than the trauma, she said.
"I can sympathize with people who encounter alligators or sharks," she said. "I know that fear now. You can't even describe it."
The bear and her cub are on the run. Wildlife officers set traps for the bear, who has become a nuisance in the community because of an open trash bin that has become its main food source, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
"That kind of behavior cannot be tolerated," FWC's spokeswoman Joy Hill said. "She has to go."
They are using a sweet-and-smelly bait like sardines and doughnuts to lure the animal into a cage. Once caught, it will be euthanized. The cub will likely suffer the same fate, she said.
Just last week, a biologist was investigating bear sightings in the same neighborhood and residents received notices to take precautions.
"We have spent a lot of time in this community," Hill said, adding that this particular bear was known to wildlife officials after they received numerous reports about its aggression toward dogs.
FWC's Mike Orlando said bear sightings are not uncommon but bites or attacks are rare. The wildlife agency has had 14 reports of bears in the general area since January that were all "garbage-related."
Encounters with bears are common in the west Seminole County community because of its proximity to the Wekiva River wildlife corridor, but wildlife officials have determined that some of the bears there have wandered all the way from the Ocala National Forest into congested areas and pose threats to humans.
"They walk around here like they own the place," Gurley said, who actually saw the same bear an hour before the attack outside her ground-floor window. She waited until she thought it was safe. "I even told another woman I saw walking her dog to be careful."
When residents come across bears, Hill said yelling can scare the bear away. In this case, however, the animal was too close.
"This was not the woman's fault," Hill said. "I don't know if she could've done anything different."
Gurley is trying her best to find the humor in her terror.
"It was a low blow. She got me when I was down," Gurley chuckled between sobs. "I'm trying to make light of it but when I think about how she could've hurt me…the tears come."
We caught the attention of the FWC via Dave Telesco!
From: Stephanie Feldstein
Sent: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 12:33 PM
Subject: Fwd: Response from Florida Bear Management Coordinator
I received the following message about your petition on Change.org asking Florida wildlife officials not to kill a bear and her cub involved in a recent incident.
He asked that you share the message with petition signers. It's up to you whether you'd like to share his message or respond to him directly if you have any follow-up questions or comments.
(On a side note: I haven't been following this situation closely, but are there any repercussions for the apartment complex that appears to have unwittingly lured the bears in?)
Let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for starting this campaign on Change.org!
Facebook I Twitter @changeAnimals
---------- Forwarded Message ----------
Date: Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 1:41 PM
Subject: RE: Relocate rather than kill the mother bear and cub in Longwood Florida petition
My name is Dave Telesco and I am the Bear Management Program Coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). I understand and appreciate your concerns regarding the incident in which a woman was bitten by a bear in Longwood. Many communities in Florida, including Longwood, are near ideal bear habitat, and bears naturally wander into these neighborhoods in search of food. But generally, they stay only if they find a consistent source of food that is easy to obtain – food such as unsecured garbage, birdseed, and pet food. Unfortunately, once bears become used to humans and the food they provide, bears can lose their natural fear of people.
The recent incident in Longwood involves an adult female bear and her 14 month old offspring (i.e., yearling). Yearling bears are relatively independent, and will be completely on their own between 16 to 18 months of age. The two bears had been frequenting several apartment complexes, getting food at the garbage canisters located near apartment doors and the dumpsters in the parking lots. The bears show no fear of humans and do not leave when people attempt to scare them away, including when law enforcement officers shoot them with rubber bullets. The adult female bear was bold enough to confront a woman and her German shepherd at a dumpster, and proceeded to bite the woman. FWC treats our responsibility to protect wildlife and people very seriously. If we think a bear could be a threat to public safety, we must euthanize the animal. We would not relocate any animal we deemed a threat to a person.
FWC does not typically try to place wild adult black bears in captivity because of the extreme difficulty the animals have in adjusting to confinement. Adult female bears normally range over a 15 square mile area, and to place that same animal into a space a fraction of that size is not unlike putting a person in solitary confinement. Wild bears taken into captivity risk injury to themselves and their human caretakers as they attempt to escape. These animals also often show signs of stress and depression by remaining in their night dens for weeks or months at a time, destroying items in their exhibits, pacing and repetitive swaying, as well as self mutilation.
No one wants to put an animal down, but there are times when it is necessary. Our educational program stresses the need to keep anything that can attract a bear secure in order to prevent situations like this from happening. We can live in bear country without having bear conflicts. Please visit MyFWC.com/bear for more information about Florida’s bears.
Thank you very much for providing people with this information.
Black Bear Management Program Coordinator
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
620 South Meridian Street 6A
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Dear Stephanie and Dave,
Dave – While I understand your response, I don’t believe simply killing the mammal—who again, only attacked in protection of her cub—as the solution to the problem. How long has the FWC been around that there isn’t a better answer? What right do we have to kill others, animal or human? We humans don’t own this planet, we share it. In addition, I like what Stephanie, from Change.org said about repercussions to the apartment complex. She is absolutely right! If the people living in the building hadn’t been so careless in the first place, the bears wouldn’t have been lured, and an innocent mother bear and her cub wouldn’t have to be the only ones paying the price. I believe if these bears must truly lose their life, then the apartment complex must also suffer a consequence as well, as then you can say both are at fault. Furthermore, I’m sure if wild sea life can be incorporated into a zoo, so can these bears, especially if, as you say, they are not afraid of humans. I would just like to see a much nicer solution than such a heartless one as killing a mother bear and her cub when again, the mother bear did only what any mother—animal or human—would do.