Black bear makes holiday home visit

Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) A Juneau family returned home from the holiday weekend to find their downtown home had been ransacked by a bear.

Cathy Munoz, a former Juneau assemblywoman, her husband Juan and daughter Mercedes spent the Fourth of July in Tenakee Springs. When they got back to their home on Starr Hill, which backs into the base of Mount Roberts and is roughly six blocks east of the Capitol, they found the back door unhinged.

Inside, muddy paw prints streaked the walls, mini-blinds were mangled and a 50-pound bag of dog food lay disemboweled on their living room floor. Alongside the dog food sat a sizable deposit of fresh black bear scat.

''It looked like the house had been vandalized,'' said Cathy Munoz. ''The bear literally ripped the door off its hinges.''

The Munozes guess that sometime during the weekend a black bear threw its weight against the back door to gain entry, ripping the door hinges from the molding. Once inside, the bear explored the house, opening a closed bathroom door, retrieving a bag of dog food and dragging it to the living room, where it ate about 25 pounds.

''After he had his nice meal and constitutional, he tried to get out, and that's when he got a little worried,'' said Juan Munoz, owner of the Rie Mu-oz Gallery.

The bear clawed at the inside of the front door. It also jumped onto a desk, next to the family's laptop, and pounded a window, becoming entangled in the mini-blinds. The animal finally left the way it had come in, pulling the damaged door open with its jaws.

''There were teeth marks all over the doorknob,'' Munoz said.

The family cat, Betty, and gerbil, Creampuff, were in the house at the time but were not harmed.

Juan Munoz said he and his wife have lived in the location for 15 years. A few bears have ambled across their deck, which abuts forested Mount Roberts, but never has a bear been so brash.

''It's sort of like the bear was Goldilocks,'' said their daughter Mercedes, 11.

Some neighborhood bears are becoming more brash, according to Polly Hessing, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Many of the animals have been conditioned to finding trash meals near residential homes. Thanks to a successful local effort to keep trash out of bears' reach, the conditioned bears are becoming more desperate to find easy food in neighborhoods, Hessing said.

''I'm not at all surprised to hear that bears are going around trying doors,'' she said. ''A bear that's gotten rewards is going to be more likely to seek out food from the same area again.''

Hessing stressed that it was unusual for a bear to break into a house, but she has had several calls this summer about bears entering open doors. She cautioned people on Starr Hill and other places where bears walk to be extra careful with trash.

''Because of the warm weather, people are leaving their doors open,'' Hessing said. ''As people that have had bears in their house will tell you, a bear can slip in very quickly.''

Juan Munoz said the broken door will be replaced with a metal door that has a deadbolt and opens outward. He estimated the animal caused about $1,000 in damage.

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