“I’ve seen bears and it’s definitely when you see, you go the other way,” said Dan Lee of Simsbury.
Sunday morning there was no place else for Lee, a dog trainer to go.
“Pretty much out of nowhere the bear came charging out of the shrub towards us,” Lee recalled in an exclusive interview with NBC Connecticut.
Lee, owner of Pawsitive Reinforcement Training in Simsbury, was on a hike with his 5-year-old mixed breed, Tank, along with two other dogs he'd been hired to train, Citra and Lucy.
He said the black bear at the McLean Game Refuge attacked Tank's hindquarters.
“I just instinctively got into protection mode. I started screaming, went up to the bear, tried to get it off of him, screamed at the bear, he actually released Tank, redirected on my leg,” Lee described.
Then, he said the bear dragged him for a few seconds before charging back toward Tank and two other dogs. Tank and Citra had been to McLean many times and instinctively went back to Lee’s car.
Lucy, a 3-year-old golden retriever, ran off during the frightening encounter.
Lee said after the bear noticed the dogs had disappeared it turned its attention back on him.
“I went back into the shrub just screaming continuously. The bear darted off,” said Lee.
“I saw a text from Dan saying Tank and I were attacked by a bear, please call me as soon as possible,” said Joelle Newton, Lucy’s owner.
Newton hired Lee to train Lucy. She went to bed Sunday night not knowing when she’d see her pup again.
“I went to bed, but I didn’t sleep,” said Newton.
Monday morning, an East Granby couple decided to head out on a hike to look for Lucy.
“We’re just picturing ourselves being in that situation,” said Angelina Frappier.
She and her husband Nathan live 10 minutes away from McLean, a 4,400-acre preserve that spans Simsbury and East Granby.
The Frappiers saw a social media post about what happened and decided to take their dog Zeus on a hike to try to find Lucy.
“We’re just picturing ourselves being in that situation,” said Angelina. “We had food for her, we had water,” said Angelina.
“I just looked down and I saw a little golden retriever curled up in a ball and I was like, ‘there she is,’” Nathan added.
The couple coaxed Lucy out of a field, which Lee estimates was just a five-minute hike from the site of the bear attack.
“Oh, I bawled. Instantly I started crying I was just so happy,” said Angelina.
Lucy was uninjured. The Frappiers contact police and they notified Lee.
Lee met the Frappiers at McLean Monday morning and brought her to Newton’s West Hartford home.
“She was jumping all over me and licking all over me,’ said Newton. “Your heart just spills over with love and gratitude for these people who don’t know her, who don’t know me.”
Newton noted all the people she saw out on the trail looking for Lucy the day before, including the Simsbury Police chief.
"DEEP was there, the police were there, the lieutenant was there on his day off, the captain, the chief was there on his day off, he did a whole circumference of the place," she added.
Lee said the bear punctured his left leg in two places and scratched up his right leg. Tank is now recovering from surgery and expected to survive.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said it is coordinating with the owners of the McClean Game Refuge on the next steps. DEEP spokesperson Lee Sawyer said the owner asked that the state not trap and euthanize the bear. Sawyer said DEEP plans to abide by those wishes since it is not state property, but would like to tag the bear if it can be caught.
A McLean spokesperson said it plans to close a large buffer zone around the trail where the attack happened and will follow DEEP guidance.
Lee said he doesn’t think the bear should be put down. He added that he has every intention to hike in McLean again. So do the Frappiers.
“It’s not something that I’m blaming on the bear," Lee said. “It’s just a freak thing.
Summer is mating season for black bears. DEEP has the following tips for hikers who encounter a black bear:
- Keep dogs on a leash
- Make your presence known, wave and make noise
- Back away slowly, don’t run
- Don’t play dead, flight with anything available.