DNR assesses increase in bear-dog conflicts in Duluth Heights

A toy poodle was put down due to injuries from bear attack

James, Easton, 6, and Tracy Tezak pose with their golden retriever Rene and toy poodle Gizmo Thursday. A bear attacked Gizmo outside the family’s Duluth Heights home Wednesday. Rene distracted the bear by barking at it. (Steve Kuchera /

Tracy Tezak wasn't aware of any serious issues with bears in her neighborhood before letting her toy poodle and golden retriever outside Wednesday night, though she's used to seeing bears around.

Tezak, a resident on the wooded Morgan Street in the Duluth Heights neighborhood, said soon after she stepped outside with her dogs a bear attacked her toy poodle Gizmo, who sustained several injuries including broken ribs and a lung contusion. Gizmo was put down Friday, after this story was originally published, due to injuries from the attack.

"I'm still shaking from it," Tezak said Thursday morning.

A similar incident involving a sow bear with cubs occurred about a week ago within a mile of Tezak's home, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. If Tezak had known, she said she probably would have taken more precautions when letting her dogs out.

While Tezak said the bear did charge her, she was able to make it inside untouched after throwing a chair between her and the bear. Her golden retriever Rene distracted the bear by barking while she ran inside and yelled for her husband's help.


The Tezak’s toy poodle Gizmo rests on the family’s couch Thursday, a day after surviving an attack by a black bear. (Steve Kuchera /

"Then I went back to the front door and I could see (Rene) so I went to let her in and the bear was behind her and tried to get inside, but I managed to get the door shut," Tezak said.

Her husband eventually scared the bear away using noise from a chainsaw. Gizmo, the toy poodle, was found on the other side of the house. Gizmo spent that night at the emergency vet and returned home Thursday evening.

The day after the incident, Tezak's next-door neighbor, Candy Lee, started a group text-message conversation with other neighboring residents so they can alert each other when they spot a bear, especially sows with cubs.

James Tezak stands next to the free-standing swing his wife pushed over onto the black bear that attacked one of the family’s dogs and charged her. (Steve Kuchera /

A sow with two cubs and a sow with three cubs have been spotted regularly around the neighborhood.


Lee, who also has dogs, has lived in her current residence for about 20 years and has noticed more bears than usual in recent months.

"It's really a sad situation because I love bears. I have two golden retrievers, too, and I love them more," Lee said of the attack. "I don't want the DNR to come and start killing all the bears but we've got to think of something."

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Bear precautions

Martha Minchak, assistant wildlife manager with the DNR in Duluth, said the department is still assessing the situation after conservation officers attempted to locate the bear Wednesday evening and saw no signs of the animal.

A trap was set in the area last week after previous reports of an aggressive bear and cubs. No cubs were spotted at the scene of the attack Wednesday night, but the DNR is still trying determine if it was the same bear. The DNR moved the trap to the Tezaks' yard Thursday afternoon.

"Our policy is that we do not trap and relocate bears," Minchak said. "If it rises to the level of needing to be trapped, we destroy the bear."


The DNR placed a bear trap in the Tezak’s backyard Thursday. Residents along Morgan Street have seen an increase in bear activity. (Steve Kuchera /

Dog owners and residents can take precautions to try to prevent issues with bears, Minchak said, and that includes walking dogs on a leash, keeping garbage cans stored in garages when possible and not setting out any birdseed and feeders if there's a serious bear issue in the neighborhood. Bears have also been getting into apple trees.

"If folks are able to pick the apples, that would be another good thing to remove that food source," Minchak said.

Outdoor compost bins and piles don't generally attract bears when managed properly, Minchak said, who frequently has bears pass by the compost in her own yard, as long as compost users avoid throwing in meat scraps and mix in grass clippings or leaves to reduce odor.

Before letting dogs out, residents can alert bears by flickering outdoor lights and making loud noises. Carrying bear spray would be another good precaution, Minchak said, since bears are coming so close to people.

While the Duluth has always had a healthy population of bears in the city, the DNR has received more calls regarding issues with bears than normal this fall. Minchak said it's not the frequent bear sightings or even bear problems that are unusual, rather it's the recent interactions with dogs that are abnormal.

"These bears are very acclimated to humans and so they have not been running away. So they're behaving a bit abnormally compared to normal Duluth bears," Minchak said. "This bear of this incident sounds pretty aggressive and pretty abnormal for our area."

Anyone who finds themselves in confrontation with a black bear should make as much noise as possible to try to chase the bear off, Minchak said. If there bear comes toward then they should back away and into the house if possible.

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