Bear attack victim mourns dog who saved his life
'I felt so bad I let the dog down,' Thunder Bay man says of Schnauzer who belonged to his sister
A Thunder Bay man who survived an attack by a black bear on Saturday says he hopes to return to Sandbar Lake Provincial Park so he can honour Spyro, the dog who saved his life when they were there.
"I'm scared right now," Trevor Miller said about the thought of hiking again. "But I don't want that to be the place where Spyro died. That's where he saved my life."
Miller was taking a break from hiking with his dog, Puzzle, a Jack Russell Terrier mixed-breed, and his sister's dog Spyro, a Miniature Schnauzer, when he was knocked to the ground from behind by a bear.
The man and the dogs then took refuge in a lake and spent more than an hour in the water as the bear continued to stalk them along the shore.
"He just kept coming," the 42-year-old said of the bear. "He just wouldn't stop."
Bear was 'always thinking about how to get me'
So Miller said he held Spyro under his arm and had Puzzle up on his shoulders to keep them safe in the water.
"I couldn't let the dogs go," Miller said. "I wasn't going to let them go without drowning myself. They were so good, not barking, not getting the bear riled up."
At one point Miller said he moved through the water to a tree that had fallen down into the lake and was using it to support his weight while he rested. But the bear had other ideas.
"He just barrels right though the bush, right on the bank, and the bear starts walking down the [toppled] tree towards us," Miller said. "I thought 'oh my god'."
Each time Miller fended off the bear, he said, "it was like [the bear] re-grouped. It was like he was always thinking about how to get me."
'I knew I'd have to face him'
There were times, Miller said, when he didn't think he would survive. But finally the bear disappeared from the lake shore and Miller decided to run to the trail with the dogs.
That's where, once again, the bear caught up to him.
"I was running down the road and the bear is right behind me," Miller said. "I was yelling at the dogs, 'just keep running' and trying to keep them in front of me."
But soon the bear was close enough that "I knew I'd have to face him," Miller said. "I didn't want him to tackle me [from behind]."
Twice, Miller said he turned and faced the bear, waving a stick and yelling, scaring it back in the bush.
"The third time he ran up and stopped dead, about six feet in front of me," Miller said.
That's when Spyro, the Schnauzer, stepped up.
"It was like [Spyro] knew what he had to do and he did it," Miller said. "He just walked towards the bear ... the bear raised up a bit and pounced on him and turned to the bush and just ran."
That's when Miller said he hesitated.
"I wanted to reach out and grab him. It's a hard thing to think whether I should have," Miller said, his voice breaking. "I almost gave up. But it was like Spyro was saying to me: 'Run...this is your chance.' And we started running."
Miller said it took him about another five to 10 minutes to get to a Junior Ranger camp where a summer student called for help.
"I finally felt safe," he said. "But I felt so bad I let the dog down. I'm trying not to doubt myself. It's so hard."
'I owe my life to him'
The bear was shot at by park officials and was later caught in a live trap.
The Ministry of Natural Resourses said the bear has been destroyed and its carcass sent to Guelph to be tested for rabies and to check its stomach contents to confirm it was the bear from the attack.
Miller said he's taking rabies shots because of the puncture wounds in his back from the bear's initial attack.
But it's not the physical wounds that hurt the most, he said.
"Obviously I'm brokenhearted about the dog," he said. "That's the hardest part right now."
"He was a real special guy and I owe my life to him, he added. "There's no doubt about that. He saved my life."