Bear Camp

About a month before my scheduled June session of Maian Meadows Dog Camp, I had a conversation with the director of Camp Colman - the YMCA camp I use for my camps. A conversation every dog camp director would dread.

"We've spotted a bear on campus several times this spring. Fish & Wildlife have brought hounds out to try to tree and relocate him, but it's been too wet for the dogs to find a scent. There's a trap out, but so far no luck. You won't be able to do certain activities up in the area he's been sighted - the vertical playpen, upper part of the hiking loop - and we'll require that camp staff escort you in groups to other activities in that area, like the giant swing and climbing wall. Oh, and your dogs will have to on leash in those areas."

Hmm. The whole reason I created dog camp was so dogs could romp off leash for an entire weekend, and their people wouldn't have anything to worry about.

OK. First and foremost, the dogs must be safe. Having a bear wander through was not my ideal set-up for camp, but if all the dogs were on leash, well, it should be OK. I joked with the director, "If that bear is anywhere within 100 miles of camp after all the dogs arrive Friday night, barking in excitement, I'll be amazed."

A few days before I left for camp, the director told me restrictions had been lifted, that the bear hadn't been seen on camp for nearly a month, and the last sighting had him well north of campus. Whew.

But, the bear trap was still up in the woods at the farthest part of the camp. It was a humane trap - a big metal tube with bait inside and a sliding door that trapped the bear once it got inside. If a dog got it, it wouldn't get hurt, just trapped. The camp director and I advised all the campers of these latest developments. No one seemed concerned, which was a huge relief to me.

Sunday morning I was chatting with one of the staff, down on the dock, when her cell phone rang. "No way! Are you serious? OK - I'll be right up." She said someone - one of my campers - had hiked past the bear trap and heard it move. All they could see was something black inside. They didn't know if it was a bear or a dog. Fish & Wildlife was called and they were waiting for their arrival.

Some campers and I walked up to where the trap was. In the photo above, a couple are trying to see inside, but none of us wanted to get too close. We could just make out the rounded ears of a bear. Mostly, the guy tried to get real small, way in the back of the trap. Under the shade of the trees, it was very hard to see inside the trap. He was very quiet.

Fish & Wildlife arrived. The warden drove up to the trap. I asked if we could get close to look at the bear. The warden was very casual about is, said sure, just be careful because while the bear was very subdued, he might fling some, ahem, waste out at us. I took a couple photos, but you couldn't tell what was in there. I asked if I could use a flash, and again, the warden thought it would be fine. Even using a flash (above), it's hard to tell there's a bear in the trap. He's young - about two years old, according to the warden, and small.

Eventually the warden drove the bear away. He hooked the trap, on a trailer, to his pickup and drove down through camp and toward the Olympic mountains. He told us something sad: the average lifespan of a relocated bear is only three months. He explained that they are, in essence, the new kid on the block in the area of relocation, and must compete with the locals for food and housing. (I rather know what that's like, having relocated to a small town in Idaho.) But my feeling is that at least he gets a chance. The alternative would have been instant euthanizing.

Good luck, little bear. You made our last day at dog camp unusually exciting. And memorable.