California Fish and Game authorities have ended their hunt for the 300-pound black bear that attacked and injured Emily Miles, a 65-year-old Carpinteria woman, last week. Two bear trackers were dispatched last Monday into the remote backcountry above the Carpinteria canyon where the attack occurred, but they were called off Friday night after they and and their tubular aluminum traps came up empty.
Had they succeeded in catching a bear, Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Janice Mackey said, its DNA would have been checked with the samples taken off Miles’s leg — punctured by the bear’s four incisors. If the fur and saliva matched, the bear would have been “humanely euthanized.” When asked how bears are euthanized, Mackey replied, “Let’s just stick with that.” She characterized the attack on Miles — who was hiking with her two dogs about a mile-and-a-half from her Carpinteria home — as “defensive-aggressive.”
In this case, the bear was surprised by Miles’s two dogs as it grazed on avocados underneath a tree. Miles had spotted fresh bear scat a minute before the attack — and took a photo — but could not see past the tree’s skirt, dense with foliage and fruit. All of a sudden, Miles recounted, her Queensland terrier, Callie, came sprinting toward her with the bear in pursuit. The dog kept running, and the bear smacked Miles across the back, raking her skin with its claws. Miles tried to run, but within 100 yards, the bear bit down on her thigh. “Luckily he didn’t tear off a chunk,” she said. “He sunk his teeth in and then released.” Commenting on her dog, Miles said, “She was a bit of a chicken there,” adding, “It was definitely not a ‘Lassie’ moment.”
An experienced camper and outdoorsperson, Miles said she knew running from bears was not a high-yield strategy. “But when a bear physically attacks, your instinct is not to stay there and yell and wave your arms,” she recalled. “I took off running.” After the bear bit her, it knocked Miles to the ground. On a scale of 1 to 10, her pain level was an 8, she said. Her back hurt far worse than her leg; she experienced difficulty drawing a full breath. The bear raised up on its hind legs and stood over Miles. It roared, and she roared back. “I was yelling and kicking and screaming,” she said. “I was not being submissive. I was being authoritative.”
She never made contact with her kicks, but they helped keep the bear at bay. At some point, Miles and the bear made eye contact. Not long after, the bear dropped down to all fours and backed away, occasionally looking back at her. “He must have gotten tired of hearing the old bitch scream,” Miles said. In great pain, she made her way to a neighbor’s, who drove her to the Cottage Hospital emergency room. There she waited an hour in the emergency room before being seen. Since the attack, Miles has had to undergo five rounds of rabies shots — no longer injected in the stomach, by the way. The upper and lower puncture wounds on her leg were nine inches apart.
Such bear attacks are extremely rare. Fish and Wildlife’s Mackey said there have been 12 bear attacks on humans in California since 1980; none have been fatal. One of those occurred in 2012 in Ojai, also involving a woman walking her dog. By contrast, Fish and Wildlife issued 24,000 bear-hunting permits last year; 1,962 bears were killed. Of those, six were “harvested” in Santa Barbara County. In addition, Fish and Wildlife issued 1,218 “depredation licenses” on bears deemed a threat or nuisance between 2006 and 2011, of which 322 were killed. Seven such licenses were issued in Santa Barbara, with only one actually killed.
In the meantime, Miles is eager to get away from news reporters calling from all over the country. She’d like to get some rest and get her life back to normal. Unfortunately, she said, that no longer includes taking long walks by herself in the wilderness. “I guess I’ll have to learn to like walking on the beach,” Miles said with evident frustration. “My son told me, ‘Hey, watch out for sharks.’”