ANCHORAGE — A Montana man was reunited with his 14-week-old border collie two days after the dog disappeared following a bear attack in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Jason Umbriaco was hospitalized after the brown bear with two cubs bit him twice Sunday, Alaska’s News Source reported.
“It was just a shock. I couldn’t believe it,” Umbriaco said after being reunited with Buckley. “I had kind of given up hope, and I was sort of making preparations inside to just move forward without him, and now it’s like I’m gonna have those times back of just joy, and peace.”
The attack happened in the refuge, while he and Buckley were hiking.
Umbriaco said the bear moved on him so fast, he didn’t have time to pull out his bear spray. He said the bear covered about 50 feet “in an instant. So then I held my arms up in sort of a defensive position and then she bit me on the forearm kind of up close to my elbow.”
When the bear let go, he panicked and jumped into the adjacent Kenai River.
“In almost any other circumstance and in probably this circumstance, it was a terrible option, but that was the one I had,” he said. “And then she reaches down and then bites me on the shoulder.”
The bear retreated after the second bite and was last seen walking up a hill with her cubs.
Given that reprieve, Umbriaco walked back to his truck to call for help.
“I was concerned that if I don’t walk out right now, I don’t know if I’ll be able to,” Umbriaco said. “After the conflict, I was calling and calling for Buckley, and apparently he had just run off, you know. He was just terrified and had taken off.”
Umbriaco was taken to a hospital in Soldotna for his injuries, where employee Bonnie Nichols heard about his lost dog from a hospital chaplain. Both visited Umbriaco in his room.
“I said ‘Listen, Alaskans love dogs, so if you can just text me a picture of your dog and a general location, I’ll put it out on Facebook and it’ll be shared,’” Nichols said.
Meanwhile, Wendie Wilson was driving to Anchorage and made a stop at the refuge, where she found a stray dog. She took the dog to her home in Anchorage, where she fed it and gave him a home for the night. Umbriaco said Buckley lost his collar and ID tags in the encounter with the bear.
The next day, Wilson saw Nichols’ Facebook post about Buckley.
“She called me and said ‘I think I have the missing dog,’” Nichols said. “She texted me some pictures and then I showed them to Jason, and he said ,’Yeah, that’s him.’”
Umbriaco was reunited with Buckley after spending one night in the hospital.
He said he was grateful for the many strangers who stepped in to help reunite him with Buckley, one of the many dogs over the years who has helped him through difficult times after suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2008.
“And that’s why Buckley is just a big part of my life,” he said. “I made some bad choices going down that trail, so I’m just going to redouble being cautious, but the summer is moving forward. We’re still camping, we’re still hiking, and we’re just gonna go forward with a new understanding.”