Man says dog attacked by bear saved his son's life
By Nathan Bowe/DL Newspapers
FRAZEE, Minn. – Toby the black Labrador retriever probably didn’t have to lay down his life the day he was chased by a big black bear, but if he hadn’t, a human member of his family might be dead now.
Toby, an 8-year-old, 95-pound black lab owned by John Wacker of Evergreen Township, was a friendly, smart dog.
He loved to sneak off and play with the neighbor kids a half-mile away.
And Wacker swears he could speak English, at least two words. “He could say ‘water’ and ‘hello.’ I taught him,” Wacker said with a laugh.
Toby wasn’t trained to hunt, but the first time he went out with one of Wacker’s sons, he swam out and retrieved several birds.
After being told just once to leave them alone, Toby never bothered the sandhill cranes that nested near Wacker’s house about 11 miles east of Frazee.
“You don’t know how much I miss that dog,” the 67-year-old said.
Toby was killed by a black bear about 5 p.m. May 21 close to his own backyard after he accompanied Wacker’s son, Chris, 45, on a mushrooming expedition.
The two were only a few hundred yards from the house, after following a trail that led partially into a 25-acre woods and out again to an open meadow that is visible from the house.
Chris said he had gathered a respectable batch of mushrooms when the trouble started.
“I was getting them pretty good, I had a bagful,” he said. “Then I heard something in the woods in front of us. I thought it was a man standing by a tree looking at us.”
Then he noticed two bear cubs in another tree scooting up a little higher.
“At the same time, an adult male bear moved across one of our one-acre food plots; we have a couple of them,” he said. “I looked back and the one bear was still standing there.”
Then Toby came up, looked at Chris, and disappeared into the brush.
“A few minutes later, Toby was running back to me like a scared dog,” Chris said. “I thought, ‘Oh, no …’ ”
The bear, which Chris estimated at 300 pounds, was after the dog and was moving at least 25 mph.
“Toby stopped when he got to me and turned and faced right into the bear. It actually overran him and just kind of caught him in the hind end,” Chris said.
Chris ended up on his butt, scrambling backward about 10 yards as the bear savagely attacked the dog.
“Chris said he’d never seen anything so violent in his life,” John Wacker said. “The bear took Toby and (smashed him from side to side), wham, wham, wham – it was sheer muscle and violence.”
Chris said he wasn’t even sure how he made it the 250 yards to the house.
“I’m not much of a running guy anymore,” he said. “I was just shot by the time I got to the house, I was seeing stars. I lost my hat, my mushrooms, my jacket – the next day I pulled a half-inch-long thorn out of my head. … It was just Mother Nature at her cruelest, it was really something else.”
John believes the same bear has been causing problems in the neighborhood for several years. It has raided his bird feeders and shed, may have killed a neighbor’s steer and was perhaps the reason a neighbor girl’s normally gentle horse threw her and bolted.
“This bear has become brazen, she’s aggressive, she would have killed Chris. … Toby saved his life, I’m convinced of that,” he said.
Chris himself is not so certain.
“I’m pretty sure the bear didn’t have any interest in me,” he said. “We just got in the wrong situation, with the cubs and a male bear and a female bear. It was not a good place for a dog, especially a big black one.”
Toby made it home about 10 minutes after the attack. He had claw injuries 4 to 6 inches deep, and bite marks on a shoulder.
They loaded Toby up and took him to the closest veterinarian, Dr. Randall Lindemann. “He did everything he could to save Toby’s life,” John said.
The dog was there from Wednesday night, May 21, to Saturday evening, May 24, when he was brought home.
On Monday, John had to work. He drives a bus for the Frazee-Vergas School District.
When he got home, “I could tell Toby was going downhill.”
Toby was put on an IV and given fluids to rehydrate him and was kept at the vet’s overnight.
“I told my wife, I don’t think Toby’s gonna make it,” John said. “I could tell the spirit and life was going out of him when I left.”
He died the next morning.