Aspen woman falls victim to bear attack
August 19, 2009
ASPEN – Maureen Hirsch got in the way of a 500-pound black bear’s pursuit for chocolate-covered toffee, and she’s got the scars to prove it. The bruin attacked her Monday night in her home in the West End, near the Castle Creek basin.
The attack has prompted wildlife officials to set two traps in the area in an effort to capture and kill the bear.
Hirsch, who lives on Sneaky Lane, went to Aspen Valley Hospital shortly after 10 p.m. as result of the attack. She was treated and released for minor injuries to her back and chest.
At about 10:10 p.m., Hirsch was working in her home office, after her husband, Tom, had gone to bed. When her son’s dog, a Chihuahua mix, started growling, Hirsch picked the up canine and went to investigate.
As she walked through a dimly lit front door entryway, located next to the kitchen, Hirsch came face-to-face with the black bear.
“I never got farther than the foyer, and the bear and I merged,” Maureen said, noting the rest of the house was dark. “He must have observed me coming, and all I saw was his head … of course I was shocked to see a bear.”
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The dog jumped out of her arms, she screamed and turned around to open the front door to make an exit for the bear. He came from behind, pushing and scratching Maureen’s back and chest.
“I sure felt it,” she said, adding the mostly superficial wound extends the length of her back. There also are scratches on her chest, as well as bruises on her body.
Maureen was able to break free and run upstairs. She screamed for her husband to call 911. The bear continued to feed in the kitchen while the two waited for police to arrive. He left once officers responded on the scene.
Police said the bear forcibly entered the home through locked French doors, which are rarely used, according to the Hirschs.
“That was the shocker,” said Tom, adding that the bear actually busted the door that doesn’t open and remains in a locked position.
The bear didn’t do much damage to the kitchen, other than leave giant muddy footprints. It walked past the walk-in food pantry, and left the refrigerator and cat food untouched. It apparently went for a bag of candy and an unopened container of chocolate toffee.
“It was a very selective bear,” Tom said.
Colorado Division of Wildlife officers arrived a short time later and began searching for the bear around streets off Cemetery Lane, Power Plant Road and other areas around the golf course, officials said.
The bear that attacked Hirsch has likely tried to break into other homes in the area, said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the DOW.
“We are fairly certain which bear this is,” he said, adding officials have a good description through other witnesses and reports of attempted break-ins.
Maureen said she’s pretty certain she saw that particular bear a few weeks ago because of its enormous size and the fact that it “bee-lined” to the construction site next door to forage in the Dumpster.
A trap was set on the Hirschs’ property. Another was set in between two homes on Mountain View Drive, off of Cemetery Lane.
The Hirschs said a small brown bear was captured Tuesday in the trap set on their property. It was tagged and will be relocated.
Because Maureen was attacked, her assailant will be killed.
“A person certainly has a right to feel safe in their own home,” said Perry Will, DOW area wildlife manager, in a press release. “This was an unprovoked attack, and, if located, the offending bear will be put down. Bears that break into secured homes and bears that are aggressive toward people are too dangerous to relocate.
“Most of these cases start with bears getting into a home through an open door or window,” he said. “Once they get in and are rewarded by finding food, it is fairly easy for these powerful animals to force their way into other homes in search of food.”
Maureen said she’s still not afraid of bears, even though she’s been attacked by one.
“We all live with bears in Aspen,” Maureen said. “It’s such an abnormal thing for a bear to do. I love the bears.”
She and her husband support the DOW’s efforts, and agree with its position that bad and ignorant human behavior leads to the ultimate demise of the animals.
“I feel very sad that this is what’s going to happen to this bear,” Maureen said. “But I understand that it might attack again, and [the DOW] is so right in that statement that it’s a learned behavior.”
Added Tom: “They become trained to be very comfortable in a human environment,” adding that most bears will run away at the sight of a human being. “It was trained to be damaged .. it’s shifted its frame of reference.”
The Hirschs have no grill outside and keep their garbage in the garage until pick-up day. And even then, the trash is in a bear-proof container.
“We try to do the right things,” Maureen said. “I feel tremendous sadness on how things are going to turn out.”