Black Bear Attacks Pennsylvania Woman in Her Own Backyard

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The woman saved her dog, but she was injured in the process and is now recovering in the hospital

A sow black bear and three cubs sit near a tree.

Sows with cubs are some of the most common perpetrators of aggressive black bear encounters. Photograph by Andrew / Adobe Stock

A woman is recovering in Allegheny General Hospital after a black bear attacked her in her own backyard in Butler Township, Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

Lee Ann Galante, 55, let her Pomeranian named Smoky out at approximately 8:30 p.m. and immediately noticed three black bear cubs in her neighbor’s tree. She didn’t notice the nearby sow until it jumped the fence and started chasing Smoky. Galante went out to intervene and the sow redirected its attention on her.

“She was very very powerful and very very angry,” Galante told KDKA News. “I [didn’t] want her to eat my dog.”

Smoky got away from the sow, which came up behind Galante and pushed her down. Galante hit her face on the cement, breaking her nose and other facial bones. The bear then got ahold of Galante’s hair and scalp and started pulling. She was afraid the bear would scalp her.

Eventually, the bear stopped. Galante thinks Smoky must have distracted it again and the pair was able to escape into the house, where Galante called 911. Galante was taken to Butler Memorial Hospital, where her injuries were deemed non-life-threatening. She was then transferred to Allegheny General Hospital. She received dozens of staples to the back of her head and was treated for her broken nose, as well as puncture wounds, scratches, and scrapes.

“She has a fair amount of puncture wounds on the back of her neck, on her arm itself and pretty significant tears and lacerations across her scalp,” trauma surgeon Dr. Jennifer Chen said. “And she also has several broken bones of her nose and her face.”

Pennsylvania Game Commission officers responded to the scene and spotted the sow and three cubs in a nearby tree. They also noticed bird feeders in the area, although it’s unclear if the feeders were in Galante’s backyard. Officers euthanized the sow after it became aggressive toward them. They also tranquilized the three cubs and took them to an undisclosed facility. The cubs were then released on state game land in Pine Grove Township on Thursday morning.

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Violent black bear encounters are rare. When they do occur, they usually involve sows protecting cubs or bears exhibiting food aggression, an unfortunate byproduct of human habituation often seen in suburban black bear populations. Pennsylvania’s black bear numbers have surged to an estimated 18,000 bears statewide, according to the PGC. The Pennsylvania black bear harvest dashboard shows that hunters harvested 3,171 bears during the 2022-2023 season, the second lowest harvest since the 2013-2014 season.

Smoky was the only one to make it out of the encounter unscathed. Now, Galante is trying to heal in time to go on a scheduled trip to Italy. 

“I said, ‘hopefully, let’s aim for that,’” Chen said. “She’s a trooper.”

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