Bear visit terrorizes paralyzed Aspenite |

Bear visit terrorizes paralyzed Aspenite

Scott Condon

For most Aspenites who have had encounters with bears this summer it’s been a matter of inconvenience. For Tom Isaac it’s been a truly terrifying experience.Isaac’s home has been invaded numerous times by one and possibly two bruins in the last month. The bear or bears have been everything from mischievous – igniting a gas burner on the stove – to downright rude – doing their “business” on a bed.But one incident was no laughing matter for Isaac, who has been paralyzed since breaking his neck in the early 1980s. Isaac has extremely limited use of his hands and no use of his legs. He uses a motorized wheelchair and needs help getting in and out of bed.On the night of Sept. 20 while he was sleeping, Isaac was wakened by the sound of commotion in his kitchen. It didn’t take him long to realize a bear had again broken into the house and was rummaging around. He heard cabinets being opened, and drawers and shelves in the refrigerator getting banged around.Worst of all, he could hear the sound of heavy steps shuffling down the hall toward his bedroom.Isaac sleeps belly down. He was unable to move as he sensed the bear six feet away on the other side of his closed bedroom door. Due to a “combination of errors,” the intercom he uses to communicate with his care providers who sleep on the second floor of his house wasn’t working. They slept through the bear’s invasion as well as Isaac’s shouts to try to scare the bear away.All Isaac could do was lay there and pray the bear didn’t burst through his bedroom door.”It was a nightmare for sure,” said Isaac. “I’m just thinking this could be really ugly if he comes in through the bedroom door. It was pretty distressing knowing the bear was there and I couldn’t move.”Isaac eventually couldn’t hear the bear and managed to drift asleep. The next morning he and his housemates discovered the bear had ransacked the kitchen in search of food and had turned on a burner in the process. The house smelled like gas.Isaac reported the incident to the Colorado Division of Wildlife and a game warden visited his house the next day to investigate. Although no bear had been in the house when Isaac left, the wildlife officer discovered a huge bruin known as Fat Albert fast asleep on Isaac’s dining room floor. He shot the bear with rubber bullets to scare it away.Attempts to trap that bear over the next few days were unsuccessful, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury. He said wildlife officer Kevin Wright had confirmed it was one of the biggest bears he had seen in more than 20 years of working in the Roaring Fork Valley.Isaac said officers have estimated the bear weighs 500 pounds.Isaac, who has lived in the same house for 32 years without previous bear problems, said he’s done everything possible to avoid encounters this summer. He even kept food out of the house for a while last week to remove temptations.His best efforts to deny access have also been for naught. The bear gained entry by destroying a door in one case and, in another, wrecking the frame surrounding a glass door.Isaac’s situation provides a classic dilemma for Aspen in a summer when bear problems have skyrocketed to record levels after a June frost ravaged the berry and acorn crop.Isaac said that he, like most Aspenites, doesn’t want to see bears killed. He noted that he only called the wildlife division after he became concerned about his ability to safely stay at his house.After his experience, he wonders at what cost problem bears should be spared if they are threatening the safety and welfare of Aspenites and damaging property.Malmsbury said the wildlife division has clear guidelines on how to address situations with bears. Nuisance bears, which may get into trash but don’t enter a home, are tagged and sometimes relocated. If they create a second nuisance they can be killed.The wildlife division’s directive says that problem bears, those which break into homes or otherwise pose a threat to humans, can be destroyed without giving them a first strike.In the case of Fat Albert, the bear could have been shot when he was found sleeping in Isaac’s house, according to DOW policies. But the wildlife officer thought it would be unwise to shoot a bear that big while it was indoors, Malmsbury said. The damage caused by a wounded bear could have been extensive.Isaac’s bear invasions started while he was on a ski trip to Argentina with Challenge Aspen in late August and early September. Up to that point, Isaac had only seen bears in his front yard.”They left me alone, I left them alone, everybody was happy,” he said.He got a message while in Argentina from his housesitter reporting that a bear had broken into his house four times in one night and six times the next. The visitor is believed to be Fat Albert.”He was so large he had his head in the cabinet above the refrigerator,” Isaac said. He estimated the bear to be 6 feet, 5 inches tall on his hind legs.Oddly, the bear didn’t leave a scratch on the cabinet or break the refrigerator.One night, the bear slept in a guest bedroom while the housesitter tried to figure out how to scare him away. The bear finally left but only after leaving a nasty deposit on the bed.The housesitter was careful not to bring any new food into the house, and when Isaac returned home Sept. 13, he consulted with animal control officers on steps he could take to keep the bears away.He was advised to try hanging balloons filled with ammonia and sprinkled on the outside with honey. The theory is bears will bite the balloons, get sprayed and stay away.When the bear broke in and terrorized Isaac Sept. 20, it ducked underneath the balloons as it entered.Isaac said the bears are ravenous and smart – a dangerous combination.He was uncertain if the bear that was hanging out just outside his bedroom was Fat Albert. Paw prints left in the house appeared to be smaller, and this time a cabinet was scratched and the refrigerator door damaged.Although Fat Albert was found in Isaac’s house the next day, he said he has no positive proof the same bear was in his house the night before.Isaac didn’t stay in his house for a couple of days after that incident.”It got to the point where I felt I couldn’t go home,” he said. “I thought, ‘The hell with Fat Albert. I want to go home.'”Carpenters worked to secure his doors. The work appears to have done the trick. Paw prints indicate a bear tried and failed to enter on Saturday and Sunday nights.But Isaac won’t really be able to sleep sound and secure until the bears hibernate.Malmsbury said the bear might have been spooked away from Aspen from the “hazing” it received from Wright with the rubber bullets. If it continues to break into homes, it will likely be trapped and killed, Malmsbury said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is