Maryland Family Fights Off Bear

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated Saturday as World Rabies Day, but for the Stanton family of rural western Maryland, commemorative events are wholly unnecessary.

The Stantons' Aug. 29 encounter with a rabid bear, the first to test positive for the disease in Maryland, left them feeling lucky they weren't outside the evening of the bear rampage.

Nephew James Winebrenner III, 15, first noticed the animal about 7 p.m. The bear had emerged from the thick woods surrounding the Stanton property near Grantsville, in Garrett County, and was scaling an eight-foot-high chain-link fence to get at two pygmy goats, which are family pets.

"We had the screen door opened," said Charlotte Stanton, 39, a homemaker. "We all started yelling to scare the bear."

The bear immediately left the goats and bounded toward the house, covering the 35 yards in an instant. Stanton's husband, Mike Stanton, 49, met the bear at the screen door just as it tried to crash through. When the couple saw the bear wasn't giving up, Charlotte Stanton took over holding the door against the creature's frenzied lunges, while her husband, a construction worker, ran to get his shotgun.

The bear then changed tactics, striding about 10 feet to the front window, where it tried to rip out the air conditioner, five feet off the ground. Charlotte Stanton left the door, grabbed hold of the unit from the inside and began a desperate tug of war with the 134-pound sow.

"We were fighting back and forth for the air conditioner," Charlotte said. "I knew if I let go, he'd be coming in."

The bear was making a kind of moaning sound as it grappled for the air conditioner. Stanton was yelling at her husband, "Mike, you've got to come quick, because I can't hold the air conditioner any longer!"

He hurried into the living room with his gun, unloaded. Sending his nephew back for a shell, Mike Stanton grabbed the air conditioner alongside his wife and tried to keep it from being ripped from the window.

Once he loaded his gun, he managed to squeeze it through a crack between the windowsill and the air conditioner. When the bear grabbed the barrel, Stanton fired blindly. The shotgun pellets struck the bear in the head and neck but didn't kill it.

The wounded bear collapsed in the yard. Stanton went to the basement and peered out, concerned that the animal would manage to wander back into the woods. His wife called 911, and a Maryland Department of Natural Resources officer showed up about a half-hour later and killed the bear.

"There have been rabid bears over the years, but it's a very uncommon thing to hear of," said Harry Spiker, a black bear biologist for the agency.

In recent years, he said, rabid bears have been confirmed in Pennsylvania and Manitoba, Canada, but never in Maryland.

Spiker said the bear would have had to come in contact with a species that commonly carries rabies, either a raccoon, a bat or a skunk.

"I felt really bad for the bear, even though [it] did what he did, because I hate to see anything suffer," Charlotte Stanton said.

The Stantons, their nephew and a 10-year-old niece who also lives with them are receiving post-exposure rabies vaccinations because Mike Stanton came in contact with the bear's blood.

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