Traps set for black bear that bit Florida woman

— Terri Gurley held on tightly as her dog Riley jerked at the leash and began to growl at the darkness early Friday morning.

The 57-year-old woman turned her head after tossing her pup's waste into the trash compactor of her Seminole County apartment complex when she came within five feet of a 300-pound female black bear.

Scared stiff, Gurley conjured all she knew about the beasts. They are typically docile. They scare easy. Just ignore it and it will go away.

But this sow wasn't in the mood. Her yearling cub was nearby and this dump was her "feeding ground."

Gurley stepped backward slowly, keeping a tense hold of her Akita-Shepherd mix. But she stumbled and fell toward the pavement, hitting her head.

The bear seized toward Gurley, who came face to face with the angry, territorial mother.

"I could feel her breath on me. I've never been so terrified in my life," she said. "I guess by instinct I rolled over so she wouldn't hurt something vital. I didn't know what she was going to do and then the bear bit me in my butt."

Her blood-curdling screams awoke neighbors in the Camden Club apartments, who called 911 and ran out to their balconies to direct her away from the bear.

Gurley said she doesn't even remember standing up but she moved toward the voices. Residents rushed to Gurley - one was carrying a bat - and noticed she was bleeding.

The animal followed her as she tried to get away.

Seeing this, a neighbor in a truck drove toward Gurley and flashed the headlights to frighten the mammal away. Residents put the woman in an ambulance. It all happened just before 7 a.m., she said.

She suffered four puncture wounds that will heal faster than the trauma, she said.

"I can sympathize with people who encounter alligators or sharks," she said. "I know that fear now. You can't even describe it."

The bear and her cub are on the run. Wildlife officers set traps for the bear, who has become a nuisance in the community because of an open trash bin that has become its main food source, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.

"That kind of behavior cannot be tolerated," FWC's spokeswoman Joy Hill said. "She has to go."

They are using a sweet-and-smelly bait like sardines and doughnuts to lure the animal into a cage. Once caught, it will be euthanized. The cub will likely suffer the same fate, she said.

Just last week, a biologist was investigating bear sightings in the same neighborhood and residents received notices to take precautions.

"We have spent a lot of time in this community," Hill said, adding that this particular bear was known to wildlife officials after they received numerous reports about its aggression toward dogs.

FWC's Mike Orlando said bear sightings are not uncommon but bites or attacks are rare. The wildlife agency has had 14 reports of bears in the general area since January that were all "garbage-related."

Encounters with bears are common in the west Seminole County community because of its proximity to the Wekiva River wildlife corridor, but wildlife officials have determined that some of the bears there have wandered all the way from the Ocala National Forest into congested areas and pose threats to humans.

"They walk around here like they own the place," Gurley said, who actually saw the same bear an hour before the attack outside her ground-floor window. She waited until she thought it was safe. "I even told another woman I saw walking her dog to be careful."

When residents come across bears, Hill said yelling can scare the bear away. In this case, however, the animal was too close.

"This was not the woman's fault," Hill said. "I don't know if she could've done anything different."

Gurley is trying her best to find the humor in her terror.

"It was a low blow. She got me when I was down," Gurley chuckled between sobs. "I'm trying to make light of it but when I think about how she could've hurt me ... the tears come."

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Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com

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March 17, 2012 01:56 PM EDT

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