Bear Attack Survivor: "Dog Didn't Hurt Cubs, Saved My Life"


STAUNTON, Va. - Being out in the wilderness is nothing new to Steven Krichbaum, a doctoral student at Ohio University. He studies turtle ecology, but never thought it could prove to be so dangerous. It wasn't until last week when he and his dog, Henry, were attacked by a black bear in Hardy County, West Virginia. 

"Thinking about it afterwards, it's scary. But when it's happening, I wasn't afraid. I was just in a mode where I was like, ‘I’ve got to get out of this!’" said Krichbaum, recounting his story.

Press releases from state agencies stated the dog, Henry, attacked two bear cubs, instigating the episode. But Krichbaum said that's not an accurate account.

"There's no evidence that Henry ever attacked any cubs,” he said, matter-of-factly. “It's as simple as that. We were way too close to each other, and that's all it was to it. She has cubs. Everybody knows a mother bear with cubs is a dangerous commodity, and she felt threatened."

In self defense the sow attacked.

“The image I really remember is, I'm kind of like this,” Krichbaum said, bringing his right knee eye level, “And she's chewing on my right thigh, and I’m kicking and screaming."

That's when Henry came to his rescue.

"I hear this kind of a growl, and Henry charged in there and started biting her. And then she let loose of me. I remember looking over, and [Henry was] on his back. And she's over there chewing all over his chest and stomach, and he was howling, and he was snarling and biting back at her,” said Krichbaum, reenacting the motions as he went.

Krichbaum said without Henry, he would have never had a chance to pick up a heavy rock. He said Henry saved his life.

"I had this rock,” said Krichbaum, holding up a heavy, bloodstained stone. “She was moving in towards me, and I hit her really solid, right in her forehead."

Krichbaum didn’t want to kill the sow, just injure her enough to scare her off. Disoriented, Krichbaum said she circled the pair a few times, before running off after her cubs.

Both the man and man’s best friend were able to escape, and drove to Richard's Fruit Stand in Frederick County, Virginia. The fruit stand’s employees called for help, and both Krichbaum and Henry were given immediate medical attention.

Krichbaum was later transported to Winchester Medical Center, where he received more than 40 stitches and spent two days recovering. Henry received treatment at a local animal hospital.

After the attack, traps for the bear and her cubs were set out by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.

"I didn't want anything to happen to that bear, and I said that expressly,” said Krichbaum. “I'm totally not in favor of them trapping and killing bears over an incident like this."

The traps have since been taken down, but critics said the attack wouldn’t have happened if Henry had been on a leash. Krichbaum disagrees. He said Henry has alerted him to bears and other wildlife numerous times, with last week’s attack being an exception.

"He’s like a little satellite. Yeah, he's unleashed, but he's not running off everywhere,” said Krichbaum.

He also said this may not have been the bear's first encounter with a human or dog, as state laws allow the hunting and chasing of bears during certain times of the year.

"I wonder what her past history is with dogs and humans. We allow humans to hunt and chase bears with dogs, and we allow humans to hunt and kill bears with dogs."

In spite of his severe injures, Krichbaum feels no animosity toward the bear. 

"I was where I was, because it a wild place that still has bears, and still has rattlesnakes, and still has bobcats,” he said. “I want an environment with all these things, so I’m very happy to take my chances out there."

Right along with the bears and other wildlife, Krichbaum intends to get back to the wilderness soon, doing what he loves most.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has graciously offered the following advice if you ever encounter a bear.

What should you do if you see a bear?

  • Enjoy and keep a respectful distance!  In most cases, the bear will move on quickly.
  • If a bear is up a tree on or near your property, give it space.  Do not approach, and bring your pets inside to provide the bear a clear path to leave your property.

What should you do if a bear is consuming bird seed, garbage, pet food, etc. on your property?

  • The best way to encourage the bear not to return is to remove the food source.
  • Do not store household trash, or anything that smells like food, in vehicles, on porches or decks.
  • Keep your full or empty trash containers secured in a garage, shed or basement.
  • Take your garbage to the landfill frequently.
  • If you have a trash collection service, put your trash out the morning of the pickup, not the night before.
  • Take down your bird-feeder for 3-4 weeks after the bear visits.
  • Consider installing electric fencing, an inexpensive and extremely efficient proven deterrent to bears, around dumpsters, gardens, beehives, or other potential food sources.
  • If addressed quickly, this situation can be resolved almost immediately after you remove the food source.  Sometimes, the bear may return searching for food, but after a few failed attempts to find it, will leave your property.

What should you do if you see a bear cub on your property?

  • Until May, sows with cubs are typically in dens.  Most small bears people see in early spring are not actual “baby bears” but yearlings (>12 months old).  They do not need their mothers to survive.
  • If a small yearling is on your property, the worst thing you can do is feed it.  Yearlings need to learn how to find natural foods and not become food conditioned or habituated to humans.
  • Once females leave their dens with 4- to 5-month-old cubs, they will typically travel in close groups unless something makes the female nervous.  If you see a very small cub, do not try to remove it from the area or “save it.” When sensing danger, a female bear will typically send her cub(s) up a tree and leave the area.  In such cases, the female will almost always return to gather up the cub(s) when no people or pets are around.

Preventing problems with bears is a shared responsibility between the citizens of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Always remember that a bear is a wild animal, and that it is detrimental to the bear, as well as illegal in Virginia, to feed a bear under any circumstances.  Feeding bears may cause them to lose their natural distrust of humans, creating situations where bears may become habituated and sometimes aggressive towards people.  Thus, human and bear safety is the responsibility of all residents of the Commonwealth.

You can help manage the Commonwealth’s black bear population and Keep Bears Wild.  Make sure your property is clear of attractants, communicate with your neighbors to resolve community bear concerns, and learn about bears, one of the most amazing, intelligent wildlife species in Virginia.  If you visit outdoor recreation areas in bear country, insist that the area supervisors manage their trash properly. If you experience a bear problem after taking appropriate steps of prevention, please call the NEW Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855)-571-9003.

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