SPARTA, New Jersey -- An 81-year old New Jersey woman sustained minor injuries when she intervened in an encounter between two black bears and her two dogs on her property. One of her dogs did not survive.
It happened on Monday in Sparta, Sussex County.
Residents say the bears usually come out at dusk or dawn, and they keep a schedule of when people put out their garbage.
According to Sparta police, the incident began after the victim had taken out the trash and let her dogs loose in the backyard.
The dogs went after a pair of bears that was going through the garbage, prompting the larger bear to take off. Authorities say the smaller bear, probably female weighing about 400 pounds, stood her ground and took on the victim's English Springer Spaniel.
That's when the 81-year-old woman jumped into action.
"As soon as she saw her dog being attacked by the bear, she went at the bear," Sparta Police Lt. John Lamon said. "She said she started yelling, started punching the bear. The bear turned her attention towards (the woman) and she wound up getting bit on the leg which she received about seven stitches."
The woman also suffered a scratch on her head that may have been a result of falling.
She was treated at the hospital.
One of her dogs was later found deceased by officers in the woods. The other dog was unharmed.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife is working closely with local authorities to investigate the incident and take the appropriate measures to protect public safety.
Due to the aggressive behavior exhibited, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has classified the bear that made contact with the woman as Category 1.
Bears deemed Category 1 are trapped and euthanized as soon as possible to protect the public and to eliminate further damage to property and/or agricultural crops.
Officials say bears are usually in hibernation this time of year, but it appears a warm December has kept them out longer -- and they can become aggressive when provoked.
The DEP reminds the public that while bear attacks on people are extremely rare, these are large, powerful wild animals, and interactions with them must be avoided for public safety and the well-being of the animals.
The DEP reminds the public of the following steps they can to take to reduce the risk of encounters with black bears:
--Never feed or approach a bear.
--Remain calm if you encounter a bear. Do not run from it.
--Make the bear aware of your presence by speaking in an assertive voice, singing, clapping your hands, or making other noises.
--Make sure the bear has an escape route.
--If a bear enters your home, provide it with an escape route by propping all doors open.
--Avoid direct eye contact, which may be perceived by a bear as a challenge. Never run from a bear. Instead, slowly back away.
--To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling, banging pots and pans or using an airhorn. Make yourself look as big as possible by waving your arms. If you are with someone else, stand close together with your arms raised above your head.
--The bear may utter a series of huffs, make popping jaw sounds by snapping its jaws and swat the ground. These are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away, avoid direct eye contact and do not run.
--If a bear stands on its hind legs or moves closer, it may be trying to get a better view or detect scents in the air. It is usually not a threatening behavior.
--Black bears will sometimes "bluff charge" when cornered, threatened or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, then slowly back away and do not run.
--If the bear does not leave, move to a secure area.
--Report black bear damage or nuisance behavior to the DEP's 24-hour, toll-free hotline at 1-877-WARN DEP (1-877-927-6337).
--Families who live in areas frequented by black bears should have a "Bear Plan" in place for children, with an escape route and planned use of whistles and air horns.
--Use certified bear-resistant garbage containers and keep the container outdoors if you live in an area frequented by black bears. Certified bear-resistant trash containers have passed a formal testing procedure and are proven to keep bears out. Certified containers offer the best protection.