BOZEMAN — As they walked through a brushy area at the Point of Rocks Fishing Access Site, Kate Cholewa saw the hair on her dog’s back stand up in waves, something she hadn’t seen before.
“It was suddenly like ripple, ripple, ripple,” she said.
Cholewa looked to her left. A bear looked back at her.
“I just saw it and I was on the ground,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m dead.'”
She felt the bear on top of her until she heard Carmen, her 12-year-old black Lab mix, start barking. The bear backed off, and Cholewa scrambled to safety.
She called 911 and waited in her car with blood flowing from her head until help arrived.
An ambulance took her to the hospital in Livingston where she received staples for the cut in her head, which wildlife officials believe came from a bite. Her face is bruised, and there are a few cuts on her hands, but other than that, she came out fine.
“I got off easy,” Cholewa told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Tuesday.
All because of a dog she picked up at the Missoula Humane Society more than a decade ago.
Cholewa, a 53-year-old writer who has lived in Emigrant for about a year, has spent the last 28 years living in Montana. She lived in Helena and Missoula before moving to the Paradise Valley.
She adopted Carmen after playing with her at the Humane Society and deciding she would be a worthy companion for a writer. It worked out, and Carmen has been with her ever since.
Carmen hasn’t had perfect health, however. About a year ago, Cholewa was told Carmen only had six months to live because of a torn ACL.
Cholewa considered getting the dog surgery, but decided against it when she heard Carmen would need six months of recovery time afterward. But with some therapy and measures to help the dog take it easy, Carmen has been doing well. Sometimes her injured leg shakes when she walks, but as long as they take it easy, she’s fine.
The year has included a lot of walks at that Fishing Access Site, one of Cholewa’s favorite places to take her companion.
“I try to keep her where it’s beachy,” she said.
Some soft sand and the ground in the brushy area are easier on Carmen’s injured leg. But this time, they had company. Cholewa said she sang as they walked, but they still surprised the bear.
She was happy to get off easy, but the close call wasn’t lost on her. When people are killed by bears it’s a tragedy, she said, but her encounter wasn’t that.
“This isn’t a tragedy,” she said. “This is a bizarre incident.”
She recalled a friend telling her she would never see a bear at that site, but it’s not unusual for bears to be more prevalent in the valley bottoms this time of year as they go looking for food.
“It’s not uncommon that bears would be down by the river,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokeswoman Andrea Jones.
FWP said in a release Monday that locals had reported seeing a grizzly in the area recently, but Jones said they couldn’t confirm whether Cholewa had been attacked by a grizzly or black bear.
The Point of Rocks Fishing Access Site has been closed until further notice as FWP officials investigate the incident.
Cholewa is OK with that, noting she probably won’t go back until “after the bears go to sleep.”
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