Woman breaks into home to flee bears

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A burglar alarm sounded Wednesday night, set off not by a masked intruder but by a woman and her two dogs fleeing from bears.

Margo Alden, 67, was walking her two dogs at about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday near Trails Edge when a mother bear and her two cubs crossed the road in front of her, Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said.

In fear, Alden ran to the closest house, at 3005 Trails Edge, and knocked on the door. When no one answered, Alden broke one of the windows with a rock and climbed into the house with her two dogs. She then called 911 to alert authorities to the situation.

Although Alden said she thought the bears were following her, officers could not locate the bears when they arrived. Officers contacted the house's owners, and Alden and the owners worked out an agreement for replacing the damaged window, Rae said.

Bear sightings such as Alden's are not rare, however. The Colorado Division of Wildlife receives several calls a week about bear encounters, especially from mid-April when bears awake from hibernation until the end of October, said Susan Werner, the area wildlife manager.

"The frequency of bear encounters is directly related to the large abundance of trash people leave out," Werner said.

If you cross paths with a bear, Werner said not to panic. Almost all bears in Colorado are black bears, and they're probably more scared than you are, she said.

"By nature, they're not aggressive. They're not out there roaming around thinking they need to attack everything they see by any stretch of the imagination," she said.

Because black bears evolved as forest-dwelling animals, they usually seek refuge in trees when they are frightened, Werner said. Humans, on the other hand, evolved on the plains, and their defensive reaction is to run and hide. So while Alden's instinct was to run to the nearest house, the bear's instinct probably was to climb the nearest tree, she said.

Instead of running, Werner advised people to give the bear plenty of space.

"You can start talking, so the bear's aware that you're a person," she said. If the bear lumbers your way, you can make additional space by backing slowly away.

Running, however, can heighten your danger.

"When you run away from an animal that could be a predator, you run the danger of triggering its predatory instincts," Werner said, although she said the risk of that happening with a black bear is still small.

But if the bear does attack, Werner said to fight back and to aim for the sensitive nose area. Such a situation, however, is extremely rare, she said.

As for the oft-heard advice to play dead, that applies mostly to grizzly bears, which don't live in Colorado, she said. So that tactic can safely be laid to rest.

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