2:50 PM PDT, July 2, 2021
Hiking and camping in Alaska for the past several days, Jason Umbriaco has long considered himself an experienced outdoorsman.
But he never saw the raging female brown bear until she was right on him Sunday on a wilderness trail, where he had been quietly walking with his beloved border collie, Buckley.
The mother bear, who had cubs in tow, started to charge and Buckley confronted her. In seconds, Umbriaco said the bear swiped at his 13-month-old pup, then came at him. The hiker put his arms in front of his face and felt the bear clamp down on his right forearm.
“Up until then I was thinking, maybe she’ll charge at me and then walk away, but then you realize no, this is really happening,” he told the Anchorage Daily News.
He was standing on a grassy riverbank, and with no other idea of how to escape, he hurled himself into the water, which didn’t stop the bear.
She towered over him and bit him in the shoulder, he said. The she turned and went up a hill with her two cubs. He waited until she was out of sight before leaving the river. His wounds were deep and bleeding and he knew he had to get out of the area fast.
Buckley was nowhere to be found. He called for the dog, but got no response. The shock of the attack had worn off, and he was starting to feel really strange.
“Shortly after, I came off the adrenaline, and so then I got shaky and woozy and everything looked sort of sparkly,” he said. “I was concerned that if I didn’t start hiking out of there, I wouldn’t be able to,” he said.
He didn’t want to leave Buckley, but felt he had no choice.
Back at his truck, he was able to get a cellphone signal and called 911. He stayed on the line with a dispatcher as he drove to a nearby highway, where an ambulance and Alaska State Troopers arrived.
In the hospital, he told workers about his lost dog.
Employee Bonnie Nichols came to visit him, “I said ‘Listen, Alaskans love dogs, so if you can just text me a picture of your dog and a general location, I’ll put it out on Facebook and it’ll be shared,’” Nichols said, Alaska’s News Source reported.
Sure enough, a woman who had stopped to pick up a stray dog in the area where Umbriaco was attacked recognized the photo. Buckley had lost his collar and tags during the bear confrontation, but he was definitely the pup in the photo.
“He didn’t have a collar on or anything, so she just grabbed him and put him in the car and took him home and bathed him. She said he was a pillow hog and her cats were really upset about it,” Nichols said, laughing, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Umbriaco, who is from Montana, received some stitches and said he was surprised he wasn’t more badly hurt.
He blames the attack on himself, saying he saw animal droppings, but didn’t realize they came from a bear.
He is just thankful to have his dog back, and plans to learn from what he did wrong.
“It’s a bummer when you have to learn a lesson from experience,” he said. “But I did, so I’m going to learn the lesson and move forward.”