TENNERTON — An Upshur County woman who lives on Overlook Drive was mauled by a bear as it attempted to exit her deck early Friday morning.
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources law enforcement officer Capt. Doug Benson confirmed Friday that Opal Gillespie, 66, had been letting her two dogs out at her residence on Overlook Drive Friday around 1 a.m. when the incident occurred.
“As she let her dogs out, she had a surprise encounter with a bear,” Benson said. “It was in a flight pattern coming off her deck, and one dog and her were in the way as it was trying to leave.”
Benson said the bear killed the dog, but despite being “bitten and scratched up pretty bad,” Gillespie is expected to make a full recovery.
The second dog “ran like the wind” inside to escape the bear, escaping unscathed, Benson said.
The most severe lacerations Gillespie suffered were located on her head and neck, and she is being treated at WVU Medicine St. Joseph’s Hospital Benson told My Buckhannon.
“Everything else was more superficial like bruising and scratching,” he said. “She is expected to make a full recovery.
The DNR believes the bear was about 1-year-old and weighed roughly 150 pounds.
Benson it appears the bear had been eating bird seed from a feeder, based on materials scattered about the deck.
He added a mauling of this sort is an extremely rare incident.
“This was a mauling because the term ‘attack’ implies an intentional effort of stalking down prey,” Benson said. “This was more like a surprise encounter where the bear was trying to go through [Gillespie and the dog that was killed] to get away.”
“When this happens, it’s one of two things,” he added. “Either it’s a mother with her cubs or the bear is on a retreat path, and it’s going to go through you to get away, which appears to be what happened in this case.”
Benson said the presence of two dogs could have also played a role in the mauling by adding to the bear’s stress level.
Bears don’t randomly show up in people’s yards or in public venues; rather, they are almost always looking for a food source, such as bird seed. And once they find one, they keep coming back to the same locale.
“Bears are extremely opportunistic,” he added.
Now, the DNR is searching for the culprit and plans to put it down, but how will the agency know it has the right bear?
“We will set out traps, and we have got hair samples from clothing and the area, and we will match that up with DNA to make sure we have the right bear,” Benson explained.
Gillespie isn’t the only person who’s encountered a bear this week.
Bob Skinner, vice president for advancement at West Virginia Wesleyan College, and his black Labrador retriever, Camden, witnessed one strolling across the college’s campus Sunday when they were out for a walk.
Skinner said Friday morning he knows Gillespie and feels awful about what happened.
“Opal is a great lady, and that’s a terrible thing that happened to her,” he said.
Skinner said he and his dog saw a bear — likely a 110-pound yearling — Sunday afternoon.
“We were walking up the sidewalk toward the front of the (Rockefeller) Gymnasium, and I was passing that sign board, the bear came around the corner from the Health Center,” Skinner recalled.
The bear even paused to peek inside the Rockefeller Center doors.
“It actually stopped and looked inside the center gym doors, and I thought, ‘well, we need to move,’ so we went inside the front doors of the campus center, and that’s where I took that picture from.”
Skinner had posted a picture he snapped of the bear on social media as it lumbered across campus.
“The bear crossed in front of the campus center, walked along the dining center … between the pillars and the windows at the front of the dining center, and then went around the corner and disappeared,” he said.
“After that, I don’t know. I wasn’t going to chase it,” Skinner added. “It was obviously looking for a food source, and when it didn’t find one, it just kept going.”
Skinner said luckily, his black Lab didn’t bark, although she did seem curious about the creature.
“It was similar in size to her. It looked like a black Labrador retriever,” he said.
As of Friday afternoon, Lisa Wharton, vice president for public relations, marketing and Foundation with St. Joseph’s Hospital, said Gillespie had been admitted to the hospital and was in fair condition