Black bear enters house through doggie door

Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Gerry and Debi Sheppard apparently live in quite a wild place on the southern outskirts of Billings.

They often see deer. They watched a mother fox and three kits nearby and even saw a peacock walking down the road. But an encounter on July 16 proved wilder than they expected.

Debi was headed upstairs to go to bed in her South Hills home at about 9:45 p.m. when she heard a crash in the kitchen.

At first she thought one of her cats had gotten on the counter and knocked something off. Oh well, she figured, she'd clean it up in the morning. Continuing on, she heard another crash followed by the sound of breaking glass. She thought maybe her husband was up rummaging around in the kitchen, but there was no light on, so she went to investigate.

After turning on a light and rounding the kitchen counter, Debi was confronted by — an intruder.

She ran to her bedroom at the other end of the house while yelling: "There's a bear in the kitchen!"

"I just felt like I needed to get a barrier between me and this animal," she said, disregarding any advice she'd heard previously about how running away from predators can spark their chase instinct.

Her husband, Gerry, figures it was a 150- to 200-pound yearling black bear that had entered through the house's doggie door on the rainy Monday night.

"It always looks bigger in the moment," Debi said.

When she saw it, it was on the counter trying to claw its way out through the second floor kitchen window, knocking off knickknacks in the process.

When he heard his wife yell, Gerry jumped out of bed and rushed to investigate.

"It was quite a thing to wake up and have your wife hollering about a bear," he said.

Gerry found the wet, muddy bear standing on his new stove. He opened the nearby front door and backed off, hoping the frightened bear would take a hint and leave. Instead, it scrambled back out the doggie door, with Debi's Australian shepherd, Zoe, barking and hot on its heels. Their other, older dog never crawled out from under the bed.

Gerry figures the bear smelled the dog food and was looking for a place to get out of the rainy weather when it discovered the doggie door.

"There are a lot of bears hanging around the neighborhood," he said.

Last year a troublemaking bear was shot nearby. A neighbor told Gerry he'd seen a sow with a cub while walking his dog. Neighbor Patricia Bentley had her beehives raided by a bear twice in three nights earlier in the month.

"He wrecked my beehives, knocked them all apart and ate the honey and the brood," she said. "It never occurred to me there would be a bear problem."

The bears probably wander down from the nearby Pryor Mountains in search of food, following creek drainages until they reach the outskirts of Billings.

Unsure of what to do after their wild intruder left, Gerry called the county dispatch center. When the dispatcher asked if the call was an emergency, Gerry said, "No, we just had a bear in our kitchen." With that, the couple went back to bed.

About 20 minutes later, while Debi was still awake reading in bed, she heard someone say, "Hello?" in her front room. At first, she thought she had imagined the voice. Then she heard someone again say, "Hello?"

She woke Gerry, telling him she thought someone was in the house.

Gerry called out "I'm coming down" as he went to investigate, this time finding a person in his front room with a flashlight. It turns out he had forgotten to close the front door. When a sheriff's deputy followed up on Gerry's call, he found the door wide open, the lights out and no one around.

"The poor sheriff, I don't know what he thought, probably that the bear ate us," Debi said and laughed.

At the urging of the Sheppards, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks set up a bear trap in the neighborhood to try and remove the offending bruin. They had no luck and pulled the trap out of fear of snaring the sow and cub, said Harold Guse, FWP warden captain in Billings.

Neighbors were urged to remove bear attractants, like bird feeders, garbage and barbecue grills, and there have been no further reports of bear encounters, he added.

Debi said she was a bit upset when an FWP official told her that their home was in bear country.

"My kitchen is not bear habitat," she said. "Come on."

In the end, the kitchen bear broke a few knickknacks, tore up the window screen and left muddy paw prints and spattered water where it had shaken out its fur.

Debi said if she ever writes a book, she has a name all ready: "There's a bear in my kitchen!"

"That's a catchy title," she said.