bear encounter

‘I Don't Think I'd Do It Again': Teen Dog Owner Describes Split-Second Decision to Push Bear

Hailey Morinico says her decision to shove a bear was a desperate move to save her dogs. A wildlife biologist says the mama bear was likely acting on the same protective instincts.

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A Southern California teen who pushed a bear off a backyard wall to protect her dogs said it was a split-second decision and something she probably wouldn’t do again.

Security camera video shows the mama bear and two cubs walking on top of a block wall behind the Bradbury home before four barking dogs charged the family. The cubs ran away, but the protective mother stood guard as the dogs continue to bark and jump.

Surveillance video footage shows a teen in Southern California shoving a bear off a low wall behind her house to protect her four dogs over the Memorial Day weekend.

That’s when Hailey Morinico’s instincts kicked in

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a bear and it is taking my dog. It is lifting it up off the ground,’” Hailey said. “In that split second, I decided to push the bear, like it was nothing, apparently. 

“I pick up my other dog and I scram.”

The bear tumbled off the wall, poked its head up for one more look, then wandered back behind a tree to join her cubs.  

It’s not uncommon to see black bears in the San Gabriel Valley foothill community, especially on trash days they leave wilderness areas nearby in search of an easy snack from a trash bin. 

A Bradbury teen describes the moment she pushed a bear off a wall to protect her dogs.

But the close encounter on Monday afternoon was highly unusual. 

“We made eye contact,” Hailey said. “We were in each other’s faces.”

Experts advise not confronting a bear. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a list of tips and general guidelines to follow regarding bear encounters.

Agency biologist Rebecca Barbazo said the bear likely saw the dogs as a threat and was protecting her cubs. The bear’s reaction — a few quick swipes at the dogs — was normal, she said. 

“The girl just came up and acted so fast — that’s not what we recommend, however,” Barbazo said. “But she did act fast, so it kind of surprised the bear.”

Asked if she would do the same thing ever again, Hailey said probably not.

“I don’t think I would, knowing all the risks and what could’ve happened, I don’t think I’d do it again,” she said. 

Hailey suffered a sprained finger during the chaotic encounter. No dogs were injured.

Black bears, recognized by their small, narrow heads and small ears, have coats that range in color from tan or brown to black. Females grow up to about 200 pounds and males can be a hefty 350 pounds with some giants weighing in at more than 600 pounds.

California's black bear population has been on the rise over the last two decades, growing from an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 in the early 1980s to between 25,000 and 30,000 -- and that's a conservative estimate, according to the state department of fish and wildlife. They're good climbers who can easily scale a tree -- or in the case, a block wall.

About half of the state's bear population can be found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and areas to the north and west. Only an estimated 10 percent of the black bear population inhabits central western and southwestern California.

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