Black bear kills city dog

  • Poppy SUBMITTED PHOTO/JULIA MAX

  • Luca and his dog Poppy, who was killed by a black bear on Monday.  SUBMITTED PHOTO/JULIA MAX

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2020 3:59:27 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Arriving home from work Monday night, city resident Julia Max needed to complete some tasks before dinner — so she threw a leash on her two-year-old dog Poppy and brought her outside for a walk around her Marian Street neighborhood.

A rather uneventful evening quickly turned to tragedy, however, when the dachshund-schnauzer mix managed to leave Max’s side to bolt through thick brush into nearby woods. By the time Max caught up and saw what Poppy was barking at in a tree, it was already too late. Within a flash, an approximately 350-pound black bear climbed down from its perch, mauled Poppy to death and disappeared up a stream.

“It all happened so quick — it took my brain a while to put together what was going on,” Max, 42, said. “Things happened faster than I understood they were happening.”

Max said she and her six-year-old son, Luca, are heartbroken over the death of their dog. Luca and Poppy had a special bond, Max said. Her son had told his mother just last week that he wanted to marry the dog when he grows up. Poppy has been laid to rest in the backyard of Max’s home.

Having first moved to Northampton in 2005, Max said she’s no stranger to bear sightings in the city. It’s not uncommon for bears to make their presence known in the Pioneer Valley as the weather gets warmer. In a Gazette story earlier this month, David Wattles, a black bear biologist for MassWildlife said that June is typically the peak month for reports of bears to local police departments as that’s when the mating season begins and when year-old cubs start to venture out on their own. 

But Max said the bears in her neighborhood seem to have been getting bolder recently. A bear had charged at her dog in her yard before backing off last winter and Max’s neighbor’s garage was recently broken into by a bear. She said she sometimes sees one bear mosey through her backyard, though she can’t put a finger on how many bears are living in her area in total. Max lives on property that abuts the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area and said there’s one bear she sees often that she suspects is responsible for her dog’s death.

So on Monday night around dusk, Max had let go of Poppy’s leash as she attended to something in her car when she saw her dog run into the brush through the window. Poppy usually stayed close whenever someone was dealing with the car — the dog got excited at any possibility of a road trip, Max said — but it also wasn’t unlike her to run around the front yard chasing chipmunks.

Max said she tried to cut Poppy off by taking a different entrance to the woods. When she walked into the woods, she saw little Poppy barking up a tree at what appeared to be a massive, 350-pound black bear. 

“I was like ,‘OK, I’ll just run over there and grab her leash,’” Max said. “But I couldn’t get to her before the bear started coming down.”

The encounter between the bear and Poppy lasted only seconds — Max said her dog was definitely nipping at the animal — but it was so fast Max can’t recall the details. Before she processed what had happened, the bear had darted up a stream. Poppy was yelping and tossing, Max was frozen, and within seconds the noises from the dog stopped, she said. 

“It seemed like an eternity,” Max said. "But it was only 30 seconds to a minute.”

Eventually, Max called the Northampton Police Department to help, who contacted the Massachusetts Environmental Police. The environmental police officer examined Poppy and came to the conclusion that the bear had run up the tree at first before climbing down, Max said, swiping at and slicing Poppy across her body as it escaped. Max said the environmental police officer said that if the bear had bitten Poppy, the agency would try to locate and euthanize it. Max said the officer also told her it was odd the bear had moved from the safety of the tree if it was scared.

Max said she’s nervous about such bears in her neighborhood, especially since young children are often playing in yards on the street. She said she’s brought up her concerns with the city last summer and asked if there could be some guide sent out to residents about how to keep safe from bears. According to Max, she was told the state’s environmental officials handle bear tracking. She said there should be more accessible advice on precautions to take.

“The town could send out a notice, or do a better job with tracking them and being aware of their behavior,” Max said.

According to MassWildlife, the state has 37 collared female bears it tracks. There are approximately 4,500 black bears in the state, according to the state’s website, and tips to keep bears away include removing bird feeders and securing trash and other possible food sources.

Max said her family is too devastated to think about getting a new dog yet. 

“I would have been sad to see this happen to any animal,” Max said. “To have it be the pet you love and cuddle and play with and take care of was almost too much to see that happen. No animal deserves that.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. 


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