'I Was Attacked by a Bear in My Own Home'

I'm a fifth generation Californian and my grandfather owned a gold mine at Carson Pass. He learned so much about survival and the environment and this was passed down to my father, who likewise spent summers in the mountains, and I was then taught all of this family knowledge from childhood. Over the years, I would spend three months at a time in a one room cabin at the gold mine and I've backpacked extensively.

I live in the Bay Area now, but we've had homes in the Lake Tahoe region for about 35 years and I'm so familiar with the area that I refer to the other people who visit as the tourists!

Our trip there at the end of October 2021 was respite from being at home. I have B-cell lymphoma, so even after being vaccinated, I'm very vulnerable to COVID-19. I'm housebound in the Bay Area and our cabin on Lake Tahoe is somewhere I can safely go with my husband to get away from home.

My son lives in a nearby town and we had dinner at his home on Friday evening before the three of us arrived at the cabin late on Friday night. We brought our belongings inside and unpacked, but we had not cooked and there was no trash in the kitchen. That night, everything was in the refrigerator except for a bag of avocados. On the first floor there is a garage, two bedrooms and a bathroom and the second floor has a great room, which includes the kitchen and a master bedroom where my husband and I sleep.

The irony is that we have a bear box we use meticulously for trash and we never keep food or anything with odours on the first floor. Our house is kind of a model home in that respect.

I remember that we went to bed relatively early that night, at 10 or 11pm, and then at around 6am, I woke to the sound of noise in the kitchen. It was pitch black and I could hear loud thumps and crashes. I assumed it was my son and though I love him dearly, he's 6'4, so he's a big man. I was annoyed: what was he doing?

I came across the landing in the darkness and I could see that the freezer door was open, because the light from the freezer was illuminating the space a little. Then, I saw the back of a bear. It was undoubtedly a Black bear. It was standing up, taking food from the freezer and flinging it on the ground. I realized that's what I had heard.

In an instant I went from being annoyed at my son to thinking: "Oh my gosh, that's a bear!" But as soon as I realized what I was looking at, I was being mauled.

The Cabin Where The Bear Attack Happened
The Freezer The Bear Was Emptying

I could feel my front, face, back and arms being attacked, it was absolutely terrifying. It felt like being slashed up with knives and it was all in the dark so I couldn't see what was coming from where. It was just this powerful creature attacking me in absolute darkness.

I started screaming as loud as I possibly could. I'm not a screamer, but I couldn't stop. The whole attack didn't last more than a matter of seconds and it all played out so fast that it took me a while to piece it together afterwards. There was no self defence here, it was not that we had a stare out or there was a pause of any kind. There was nothing anybody could have done. But I know I was trying to switch the lights on and see what was going on, because afterwards we could see there were bloody handprints right around where the two light switches are.

When I got the light on, I could see the bear had gone down several steps of the stairs, it then stopped and started to turn around. That's very aggressive behavior. The bear was looking up and it was clearly unafraid of me. So, I took a quilt that was lying across the railing above the stairwell and threw it at the bear. All of this was reflex, but luckily it landed on the bear's head and it then turned around and started back down the stairs, before turning around again.

I think the reason I wasn't attacked again is because my son on the first floor and my husband in the master bedroom upstairs both opened their doors at the same time. I think the bear heard that and was scared off. But the bear didn't run out, it sauntered out. Our front door has a little lever handle and the deadbolt had not been locked that night, but bears are extremely intelligent and dextrous, so we assume that's how it entered our home.

I was dripping blood and I was in a nightgown that was drenched in blood, but a laceration to my face wasn't as bad as I had initially thought, though it was deep and there were also puncture marks all along my lip. I had been badly bitten on my breast and I had lacerations where the bear had mauled me on my chin and upper chest, as well as on my left arm and back, and there were scratches on my abdomen, but it was a puncture wound right above my spleen that terrified me the most.

Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curzis husband treating her wounds
Laurel-Roses Bear Attack Injuries
A Bear Attacked Laurel-Rose in Her Home

My spleen is enlarged because of my lymphoma, and as a physician, I know you can bleed to death quickly from a splenic rupture. At that point, I was most afraid that I was bleeding internally.

My son was calling 911 as my husband, who is also a physician, was examining me, and it was a matter of minutes before the ambulance and fire truck arrived. Within 30 minutes of the attack I was at Tahoe Forest Hospital.

The doctors gave me a CAT scan almost immediately to scan my head and abdomen and, fortunately, the claw had stopped just short of the perineum that covers the spleen. My wounds were irrigated and I was given a tetanus shot and antibiotics, but doctors felt the wound on my face was too extensive to repair there, so they sent me to the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento where I stayed until 7pm at night. But I couldn't open my mouth initially because of the sutures and I have lost 12lbs in the days since, because I've been on a liquid diet.

A Black Bear in Lake Tahoe
A black bear pictured near Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curzi's property in Lake Tahoe. A different black bear attacked von Hoffmann-Curz in the early hours of October 31. Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curz

My son was at the cabin when the fish and wildlife warden came that day and went through the shredded paper and ice cream tubs trying to get saliva samples for DNA matching. A sturdy metal bear trap was placed in front of the house which from pictures I have seen looks almost the size of a horse trailer but half as high. I've learned that you can't relocate a bear, it isn't an effective strategy, but obviously you don't want to euthanize the wrong bear.

I don't think our cabin is habitable until the bear is found. Bears come back to where they know there is food. Local authorities did catch a bear but it was not the same bear and we have been told that the search for the bear that attacked me has now stopped.

Of course, I want to go back, our cabin in Lake Tahoe is one of my favorite places. But I want the bear to be caught. The neighborhood has had so many bears in recent months and that is new and different from what I have seen in my time here. The population of bears has been increasing steadily in the Tahoe area and with no bear hunting, the bears will go where they can get food. Most of the people in our area are full time residents, but there are visitors who don't understand that trash can't just be put out, it has to be in a bear box. I would love to see preventive measures put in place at Lake Tahoe, such as requiring vacation renters to read and sign information about storing food and trash.

I am really afraid other people will be hurt as the number of habituated bears increases. I was just so lucky. I don't want to see someone get killed.

Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curzi lives in the Bay Area with her husband. She has had homes in Lake Tahoe for more than 35 years.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.

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