A Waterloo man and his dog made a harrowing escape from the clutches of a vicious black bear Thursday while portaging near Wawa, Ont.
Tom Tilley, 55, killed the nearly 200-pound bear by jumping on its back and stabbing the aggressive animal with a six-inch hunting knife after his dog alerted him and distracted the bear.
"Love is a very powerful emotion and my thought right away was, 'You're not going to kill my dog,' " Tilley said yesterday.
"I really consider my dog a hero. Without that first warning I would have had the bear clamping down on my neck."
Tilley had planned on spending 12 days portaging through the area near Wawa with his American Staffordshire, Sam.
Four days into the trip, as he was making his third trip back to the water near Abbey Lake to retrieve his gear, he heard his dog growl and noticed the bear closing in on him. He said he did what he's been taught to do when a bear is close -- he starting waving his arms and slowing started backing away from the animal.
The bear moved off the trail, but a few seconds later reappeared, cutting off Tilley's escape route.
"That's when I knew I had a serious problem . . . I was lunch," he said.
Sam, who was behind Tilley before the bear moved up the trail, was now between the bear and his owner. Instead of taking an aggressive stance, the dog stood sideways blocking the bear's route.
"The bear took a few steps down the trail and clamped its mouth on the back of my dog," Tilley said. "By attracting the bear's attention like that and distracting the bear from me it gave me the quick opportunity I needed to run around to the back of the bear, get on its back and with my knife start stabbing it."
Tilley had recently purchased the knife that would save his life after reading the story of Jacqueline Perry, the young Cambridge doctor who was killed by a bear last September.
Perry's husband attempted to fend off the animal with a Swiss Army Knife -- the only weapon he had.
"When I read the report about her death, it really hit home to me that these things are possible," Tilley said.
"I owe her husband a real debt of gratitude because if I hadn't heard her story and got that knife, I wouldn't be telling this story."
After making sure the animal was dead, Tilley realized he had suffered a wound to his hand and Sam had two puncture marks on his back. He needed to get help, but was a two-day portage away from civilization.
Dragging his canoe across the short portage, Tilley paddled for about an hour before he came across a pair of Americans who happened to have a satellite phone.
They called for help and two hours later, a cargo plane arrived to take Tilley back to Wawa for medical attention.
He was treated and released from hospital.
News of his feat passed quickly through the small community, with a population of just over 3,000.
"He had a lot of cojones to do what he did," said Brenda Grundt, who operates the local news site Wawa-news.com and drove Tilley two hours back to where he'd left his van after the incident.
LUCKY TO HAVE KNIFE
"It's pretty amazing. Here's a guy that wouldn't be here if he hadn't happened to have a knife on him."
As for Tilley, it wasn't until he was back in his van alone with Sam that he took in the gravity of the situation.
"I just thanked God I was alive and that my dog was alive and cried a bit, but they were tears of thanks and relief," he said.
The Ministry of Natural Resources has sent the bear's body to Guelph and Ottawa for testing.
"It's very unusual for a bear to attack a person (and) pretty amazing this gentleman was able to kill it just with a knife," said Jolanta Kowalski, spokes-person for the ministry.
Because Wawa doesn't have a veterinarian's office and a specialist wasn't available to treat his hand, Tilley decided to push through and make the long journey home that night.
Back in Waterloo, news of his experience trickled back to amazed friends and family. Despite the danger, Tilley said the incident hasn't erased his love of the outdoors.
"My daughter says I'm not allowed to go up there anymore," he said with a laugh. " But I left my canoe there knowing I'll have to go back to get it."
We had already walked the portage trail twice and a pair of solo canoeists had passed through also, so there was no reason for a normal bear not to be warned of the presence of humans. On my third trip back for more gear Sam who was walking beside me started to growl. I turned around and there about 20 feet back was a big black stealthily closing in. I had heard nothing. Without Sam's warning, the first I may have known of the bear's presence may have been his jaws around my neck. I did what I was supposed to do, made myself appear bigger, made lots of noise and while facing the bear walked backwards. I had immediately unsheathed my knife and had it in hand. None of my actions were scaring away this bear and it kept approaching. I began to have an inkling that I had a problem here. The bear then went off the portage trail, through the bush, past me and came back on to the portage blocking off my retreat. Now I knew I had a serious problem. Sam who had been behind me was now in front in relation to the bear. I began moving backwards again in the opposite direction,waving my arms and making loud noises. Sam rather than facing the bear in aggressive posture was turned sideways blocking the bears movement forward. The bear from his slightly higher position on the trail came down and clamped his jaw on to Sam's back. I've been told the purpose of this is to snap the spine rendering the meal incapable of escape.
I've in the past discussed with my friend and breeder and even here on FR, what to do in the highly unlikely case of facing a predatory bear and it being momentarily distracted by my dog. The consensus was I should take advantage of the opportunity to escape, to validate my dog's sacrifice by saving my own life. But, boy, reality can sure be different than hypotheticals. While the motivation for my action was my love for Sam, my choice may have given me greater odds of survival than running away would have in this instance. I would have been running towards the end of the portage where my gear was but my canoe was still at the beginning of the portage. I had no way to truly escape the area and would have been left with the difficult possibility of facing this bear, when he was done with the appetizer, in a frontal attack armed only with the knife. What would I have done, offered him my one arm to chew on while I stabbed with the other? Of course none of this was going through my mind at the time, I only saw my beloved canine friend being attacked and an opportunity to stop it.
All thanks to God for seeing me and Sam through this safely. And while nothing can mitigate the loss of Dr.Perry, her husband has my deep gratitude for sharing his story with the media and motivating me to buy the knife.
And Sam....I've said many times in the past that he is a gift from God to me. He had already help 'save my life' by the opening up of my heart that resulted from his coming into my life, But now he has been instrumental too in saving my physical life. Folks that have heard the account are planning to apply for him to be inducted into the Purina Hall of Fame, I certainly believe he has shown himself worthy of that honor.
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