“I thought I was going to die,” said Connie Dilts, recounting the day when a 300-pound black bear attacked her.
“When it stood up it was taller than me. I felt its breath on my face.”
She turned away as it tried to bite her face, so the bear repeatedly bit her shoulder and clawed her wrist before picking her up and flinging her 20 feet through the air.
“The bear wanted to kill me,” said Mrs. Dilts of North Mahoning, Indiana County.
She’s convinced she’s alive today because of the courage and intelligence of her daily walking companion, a 30-pound dog named Boomer.
“I tried to scream and could not make a sound. Boomer knew I needed her and she gave it everything she had,” attacking the bear and chasing it away.
Boomer, 7, is a blue-eyed blue merle Australian shepherd (her registered AKC name is Gearhart Sound of Thunder) who is valued for her work at Green Lawn Farms, where she herds dairy cows and hogs. She’s also valued as the loyal and much-loved family pet of Mrs. Dilts, a third-grade teacher at Punxsutawney Christian School; her husband, Bob, a fifth-generation farmer; and their children, Cenneca, 20, and Zane, 17.
Now Boomer is an official hero. The American Kennel Club has named her one of the five winners in the 15th annual AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence. She won in the Exemplary Companion Dog category. The awards were announced this month. The bear attack happened Aug. 4, 2013.
For nearly 20 years, Mrs. Dilts had taken a daily five-mile walk near her home in northern Indiana County. She is always accompanied by dogs. In recent years, it’s Boomer and a younger blue merle “Aussie” named Reina. Mrs. Dilts knows the area and she understands nature — she’s a farmer and a hunter. She has seen a bear once or twice in the distance, and they have always scurried away.
Boomer and Reina had been romping nearby, sometimes out of sight. When they ran back to Mrs. Dilts, they were accompanied by a big black bear that ignored the dogs and ran directly toward the human.
After the bear attacked Mrs. Dilts and threw her to the ground, Boomer jumped on the bear’s back, wrapped her front paws around the bear’s neck and bit the back of its neck.
“But the fur was so thick, I don’t think the bear could even feel it,” Mrs. Dilts said. Fearing that she and dog would both be killed by the bear, Mrs. Dilts wondered how she could get Boomer to do more.
“Get ’em!” Mrs. Dilts screamed to Boomer. That’s the same command she and her husband use to tell the dog to round up the cows and hogs.
Boomer “repositioned herself” and got to the front of the bear, hanging on with her front legs still wrapped around the beast’s neck. Boomer bit the bear in the face, again and again, and the bear screamed in agony. Then the bear ran for the woods with Boomer in hot pursuit.
What was the other dog doing through all of this?
“Reina is not a fighter,” Mrs. Dilts said. Although she, too, is a well-bred herder from “working lines,” Reina usually plays second-fiddle and lets Boomer do most of the work.
While Boomer battled the bear, Reina stayed by the side of Mrs. Dilts. After Mrs. Dilts was attacked, Reina licked her wounds.
Mrs. Dilts said she was nearly incoherent when she called her husband on her cell phone and said, “A bear tried to kill me and Boomer chased it and now I think the bear has Boomer.” About 15 minutes later, Mr. Dilts arrived on the scene in his truck. Boomer trotted out of the woods with a little tuft of fur in her mouth. Her only wound was a scratch on her nose.
The incident was reported to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Officers were concerned about the violent and unexpected behavior of the bear. Mrs. Dilts has heard no reports of further bear attacks in the area. However, she was given a series of rabies-prevention shots as a precaution, and it took weeks for her bruises to heal.
Boomer had been been vaccinated against rabies, but was given a booster shot as a precaution.
The bear attack “really changed Boomer,” Mrs. Dilts said. Although she continued to do her farm dog work, “Boomer lost a lot of weight, almost all of her hair fell out and she would not leave my side. She started sleeping in bed with us.”
Boomer’s hair has since grown back and she has gained weight, but she is still always in close contact with Mrs. Dilts. She said it took nearly a full year before she could walk that same five-mile route again. “I don’t walk every day anymore. I’m more alert and I tell people to be careful” around wild animals.
Although she’s a hunter, she doesn’t carry a gun on her walks. “A gun would not have helped me. The bear came so fast, I would not have gotten the gun out on time.”
As for the AKC ACE award, “We are so excited and so honored,” Mrs. Dilts said. “It’s a huge honor. It’s surreal.”
Boomer and the family are flying to Orlando, Fla., for the awards ceremony Dec. 13 at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog show. Boomer is getting a silver medal, $1,000 donation to a pet-related charity of the family’s choice and a one-year pet insurance policy from Pet Partners, Inc.
The other winners are a German shepherd K-9 officer who took a bullet in the line of duty; a blind pug that is a therapy dog and visits abused children; a mixed-breed dog that is a service dog for a wounded warrior; and a Labrador retriever who has traveled the world to do search and rescue work.
Go to www.akchumanefund.org for further information, including how to nominate dogs for the honor.
Bark in the Dark
The popular annual pledge walk and summer festival for the dogs returns to Hartwood Acres in Hampton next Saturday starting at 5 p.m. It’s a fundraiser for the Animal Friends shelter in Ohio Township.
A cute little bichon frise named Minnie adorns the Bark in the Dark posters and T-shirts because Minnie and her owner, Linda Dickerson of Pittsburgh, were the top fundraisers last year. They’re doing it again next year, and you can go to www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org/Bark 2014 to see how all the fundraising dogs are doing. You can also register online.
Registration is $30 for adults. Kids and dogs get in for free. Admission just for the concert is $15 per car. Walk-ins are welcome.
The festival starts at 5 p.m with registration, games, pet vendor fair, kid’s area, canine massage tent, pup-arazzi photo booth and dog paw painting. Food trucks provide refreshments.
The dog walk starts at 6 p.m.,
Bring blankets or chairs for the show on the outdoor stage of the Allegheny County park. It starts after the dog walk with Jim Krenn’s Pet Look-A-Like Contest. As the sun sets, Mr. Krenn will do a comedy act followed by a concert by One Sweet Burgh, a Dave Matthews tribute band.
The Doggy Dip at Dormont Pool will be on Labor Day, Sept. 1, and you can go to www.wpahumane.org to register.
Small dogs (30 pounds or less) swim at 4-5 p.m., dogs of all sizes can swim at 5:15-6:30 p.m. and the large dog session (60 pounds and bigger) have the pool 6:45 p.m.-8 p.m.
Pre-registration online is $25 per dog, per session. Same day registration is $35, if space is available.Proceeds benefit the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and the Borough of Dormont.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Contact Linda Wilson on her Facebook page, email@example.com or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.