It has now been 11 weeks since Peter Moody and Susan Bond encountered a grizzly sow and her cubs about 40 minutes from their home on LD Ranch Road, north of Kimberley.
The attack left Peter and Susan with multiple lacerations, bites and puncture wounds on their heads, arms, legs and torsos. The injuries put them in hospital in Cranbrook and Calgary for a total of 12 days. They have been at home since early December.
Peter is recovering well, with the scars on his head and arms becoming less noticeable. He still has difficulty focusing his left eye, near where the bear swiped him, and will be consulting an opthamologist. A massage therapist is treating a lower back problem resulting, he thinks, from the bear’s weight on top of him. Still, he recently began driving into town during daylight hours, and since the New Year has been getting out most days to do a short loop around the house on cross-country skis.
Susan was more severely injured and her recovery is progressing more slowly. The right side of her face — eye and cheekbone — was badly damaged, and required reconstruction by Calgary plastic surgeon Dr. William de Haas. Her facial scars have healed exceptionally well but her right eye needs more healing time and remains closed.
Dr. de Haas also repaired her left arm, which was cut badly below the elbow, and right leg, which was deeply gashed above the knee and had the hamstring severed. Wounds on her arm have healed; the leg is taking more time. But she manages to get around the house with a cane and even gets outside for walks down the driveway with the aid of ski poles. And she’s working with physiotherapists to get the knee and leg back in shape.
Susan says she is learning to temper her early expectations of a fast, painless recovery with the realities of the healing process.
“I’m learning that in terms of recovery for the kinds of injuries I have, two or three months is not a long time,” she said. “I’m now hoping that by spring I’ll be seeing better and walking unaided. I am a patient and I have to be patient.
“Some days it’s difficult but what keeps us going is the huge and amazing outpouring of concern and support from our family, from friends, even from acquaintances,” Susan said. “They drive us to medical appointments, shovel snow, plow the driveway, bring meals, run errands. It’s so heartening to be the recipient of that kind of affection and good will.”
Peter says that even while they were in hospital, his son Guy would sit by their bedsides with his laptop and read daily email messages from friends. “It made a real difference for our mental health to know that people were rooting for us.”
Both of them can’t say enough about the care they have received.
“From the moment the ambulance arrived, we’ve had outstanding medical care,” Susan said. “It kicked into high gear for us and it hasn’t stopped. Home care, physio, referrals to specialists — it’s all there when we need it.”
“It’s the Canadian health care system at its best,” Peter said.
An event such as Susan and Peter experienced leaves emotional as well as physical scars, and both are dealing with them as best they can.
Asked if she felt she could enjoy hiking as much as she did before, Susan was hesitant.
“Right now I’d say no, but it’s not something I really have to deal with until I can walk properly. We’ve talked about being out in the bush again and we both recognize that we are fearful. I think it will take an effort to get back outside. Our friends and neighbours have said that when the time comes, we’ll go out in a group.”
“One of the things the psychologist at the Foothills talked about was taking baby steps,” Peter said. “My son Guy said that a baby step is looking out the window when you get home, and just enjoying the view. Another baby step is walking outside the house. Another is skiing around the garden. Another will be venturing out a little further.”
Another aspect of dealing with the experience is to learn from it. Peter and Susan have been reading books and articles, meeting with knowledgeable people and examining their own responses to try to understand why the attack happened where it did, and if there was anything they should have done differently.
One thing they have learned is that the situation they walked into was almost certain to result in a bear attack.
“Everything we’ve read recently says the combination of a close sudden encounter with a grizzly sow and cubs feeding on a carcass is the most dangerous scenario in bear-human encounters,” Susan said. “As CO Jared Connatty told us, ‘You guys had a triple whammy that day.’
“We had no warning. There were no tracks, no ravens circling over the carcass. The creek was making noise. We weren’t talking. We came upon the bears suddenly, at very close range, and they had been feeding on their deer kill.”
In his analysis of the attack, Conservation Officer Connatty noted:
“The two victims approached the location from the east along the north shoreline of Mather Creek and as a result had little to no indication of bear presence until the confrontation occurred on site.
“The offending bear(s) were bedded either directly west or slightly northwest of the attack site just inside the fringe of the dense riparian cover as the two victims came within close proximity of the food cache.
“With dense bush cover limiting visibility and the sound of running water masking other noises, the two hikers unknowingly confronted the bear(s) within close proximity, instigating a surprised/defensive response by the sow.
“It is concluded that the sow grizzly was responsible for the attack and the following being the reasoning(s) for the response:
1) A reactionary response to a surprised encounter;
2) A defensive response with regards to protection of cubs;
3) A defensive response with regards to the protection of a food source.”
With this in mind, no history on the bears, and the knowledge that the sow and cubs had left the area, the team of East Kootenay COs who investigated the attack decided not to pursue the animals.
Susan and Peter agree with that decision. They believe the bear was only doing what instinct told her to do, and was only as aggressive as necessary.
“In the bear’s defence, as soon as she saw we weren’t a threat, she left us alone,” said Susan.
“It wasn’t an off-the-cuff decision not to kill her,” Peter said. “The COs determined the bear’s behaviour was predictable. It seemed she checked me out and saw I wasn’t resisting. She went back over to Susan, had one last go at her, then backed off. Her behaviour was defensive, not predacious.
“She was doing what she had to do,” Peter said. “It happened. Let’s move on. I have to live for the present and the future.”
In Tuesday’s Bulletin, more on what Peter and Susan have learned about the attack and grizzlies in the Rocky Mountain Trench.