An Alberta woman says she was absolutely petrified when she came across three hungry grizzly bears in her backyard over the weekend.
Marjie Whitehead lives about 30 kilometres south of Whitecourt. She and her two dogs were just about to come into the house after watering the back garden when they saw the grizzlies.
“As we approached the front door, I saw the three grizzly bears right in my yard. Immediately, my dogs saw at the same time I did, and they tore off after the grizzly bears,” Whitehead explained over the phone Wednesday.
“I just froze in my tracks. I couldn’t move because I was so scared. I was ultimately petrified.”
Not knowing what to do, Whitehead ran into the house and locked the doors. She went upstairs to the patio — where she said she felt safe — and tried to call her dogs inside.
“They wouldn’t come back because I know what they’re doing, they’re loyal to me and they’re trying to do their best to protect me,” she explained.
“But at the same time, I was so scared for them. I was trying and trying to call them back and I was so frightened for their safety.”
Alone in the house, she eventually got a hold of her husband, who was in Edmonton with their son at the time. In a video posted to Facebook, a scared Whitehead can be heard asking her husband what to do. Her son called one of their neighbours to come over and help.
As the neighbour was heading over, Whitehead said she went and got her gun in an attempt to fire off “scare shots” and shoo off the intruders. At this point, she said the animals had gotten into her shed, where she keeps the dog food.
“I realize that they are a protected species, so I know you’re not allowed to harm them. So I was just shooting off scare shots to try to make them go away,” she explained.
But the scare shots didn’t faze the grizzlies.
“They paid no attention to my scare shots… I was so surprised that they didn’t run away when I was firing those shots.”
When Whitehead’s neighbour arrived, he managed to get the smaller of the two dogs into his vehicle. The neighbour then drove up onto the lawn and into the backyard, hoping the vehicle would scare off the bears. But that didn’t work immediately either.
Another two “scare shots” didn’t shake the animals either.
Eventually, Whitehead said her neighbour was able to scare off the bears with his vehicle. The three bears ran down over an embankment toward a nearby creek.
Whitehead managed to get both of her dogs indoors before the bears returned for another short visit a few hours later.
Apart from a bear running across her property about 29 years ago, Whitehead said she has never experienced anything like this. She said the ordeal was nothing short of petrifying.
“It was ultimately so scary,” she said. “Seeing these three grizzlies was just terrifying… I was just so terrified that I literally could not leave the couch.”
A spokesperson with Alberta Fish and Wildlife said they were called and set up traps in the general area. On Wednesday, three grizzlies were caught in the area, but Ina Lucila said they cannot confirm if they are the same bears Whitehead encountered.
“Officers will assess the three grizzly bears in accordance with the Government of Alberta’s Grizzly Bear Response Guide,” Lucila said in a statement.
She said bears that do not appear to be shy of humans pose an increased risk of harming or killing someone. Lucila said because of this, officers “may have to make the difficult choice to put a bear down to prevent future public safety problems.”
Lucila went on to say that it is not uncommon for people to see wildlife in urban communities, especially at this time of year when “bears are looking for food to fatten up before hibernation.”
Whitecourt is located about 180 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.