Yukon bear attack survivor believes her dog — and a hair clip — saved her life

Survivor says she’s lucky to be alive after mauling on major trail near Pine Lake Campground
Vanessa Chaput is sharing her story of surviving a grizzly attack along the Trans Canada Trail near Pine Lake Campground with hope that it helps other people learn from her experience.

The survivor of a grizzly attack in the Yukon believes her dog — and a hair clip — potentially saved her life.

Haines Junction resident Vanessa Chaput shared her story with the News on July 4 while recovering in the Whitehorse General Hospital from severe injuries just days after the mauling in hopes that it might save another person’s life.

The local resident was out running with Luna, her German shepherd, when she spotted a group of bears along the Trans Canada Trail near Pine Lake Campground on the evening of June 30.

Chaput tried giving them space by backing away.

“My dog had smelled them or had seen them, and she took off towards them, chasing two grizzlies away, and I had a boar charge me and attack me from there,” she said.

“As the bear was attacking me, it went for my head, and it wrapped its paws around me, digging into my back and, of course, biting my right arm in multiple places.”

READ MORE: 3 bears killed in wake of grizzly attack on Haines Junction resident in Yukon

The bear chomped down so hard on her lower forearm that it broke a bone.

“As it was biting my head, I was thankful a hair clip, I would like to say, saved my life because it broke, and as I was trying to get away from the bear, it let go and ran across the running path,” Chaput said.

Then she hid behind a tree.

“I kept calm, I didn't scream during the whole process, and I didn't run,” she said.

“I made sure to make myself stay still and just kind of trying to make myself look small behind the tree.”

That’s when the bear charged back at her, stopping in front of the tree and slapping its paw before turning in the direction of her barking dog. Luna’s distraction gave Chaput time to walk up through the ditch and onto the Alaska Highway, where she called her husband from.

“She saved my life,” Chaput said.

“Instead of three bears attacking me, it was just an in-rut boar, and she was able to distract the boar from attacking me, because she was continuously barking, and he took off towards her direction, giving me a chance to get away safely.”

Conservation officers were called to the scene at around 10:30 p.m.

They shot and killed three grizzlies.

The nearby campground was evacuated in the middle of the night.

The hunt for the fourth bear went on using tools like helicopters and drones. The search has since been called off, although conservation officers continue to monitor the area for bear activity.

According to a Facebook post by Yukon Conservation Officer Services, the local resident was out for a jog with their leashed dog when they came across a group of grizzlies on the trail. The jogger tried to increase space but the dog “broke free” which caused one of the bears to become defensive and attack the person. The attack resulted in "significant injuries” that required medical attention.

“It is believed the dog also caused the bear to break off the attack providing the individual opportunity to retreat and call for help,” reads the post.

Even after luring off the bears, Luna escaped without any wounds, according to Chaput, who believes the bear would’ve attacked her regardless given its state.

Chaput’s family ran through her mind as the beast came after her.

“I just thought I needed to fight for my daughter and my husband, because they need me,” she said.

Chaput hasn’t seen her daughter since the mauling.

“It's really hard for me,” she said.

“I won't be able to pick her up."

Dave Leegstra, Chaput’s husband, told the News the couple got an update on the investigation into the bears.

The News reached out to the Yukon Environment department, which handles communications for conservation officers, for an update. Linea Volkering in communications said by email on July 5 that the attacking bear has yet to be identified.

“The necropsies on the three bears have been completed and samples have been sent out to a lab in Alberta. We are awaiting the lab results to help confirm DNA matches with forensic evidence from the scene. This will also help contextualize necropsy observations and inform our understanding around variables such as the bear group dynamic/relationship and their health,” Volkering wrote.

Chaput said that right after she left, the attacking bear returned to the same location, which is where the conservation officer located it.

She doesn’t have further questions that she hopes the investigation will answer.

“Nobody is to blame the animal, nor I,” she said.

“We both live in the wilderness.”

READ MORE: Yukon conservation officer hopes grizzly attack probe will help healing process

Chaput experienced multiple puncture wounds and got more than 30 stitches following the incident.

She has a long healing journey ahead.

“I'll be looking into some counselling to kind of just help me through this traumatic event and just to kind of grow from it and just kind of heal from overall the whole situation,” she said.

Thankful for the support from her family and the community, she is trying to move forward.

“I am sore, but I'm on the mend,” she said.

“I'm just very thankful to be alive, and I'm very thankful for my dog.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at [email protected]

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the ieo65.
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