On a recent afternoon in Bradbury, California – set in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles – a flurry of barking alerted 17-year-old Hailey Morinico to quite the backyard scene: her family dogs confronting a sow black bear and her cubs, pinned up on a garden wall.

Swiping at her lunging harassers, the mother bear ended up hooking a small dog and hauling it off its feet. That prompted drastic action from Morinico: The teen rushed over and shoved the bear off the wall, rescuing the dog and fleeing the scene with the rest of the “pack.”

The whole affair was caught on camera and posted to TikTok (and reshared all over Twitter):

Morinico’s mother told McClatchy News that her daughter “reacted with superhuman strength” in the rescue effort. (Worth noting that the bear, after regaining the wall, headed in the opposite direction.)

It’s not surprising that people act with courage – including of the reckless variety – when their beloved pets are under threat. That said, state wildlife officials took the opportunity of the viral video to remind the public of basic bear safety.

“Though we don’t want to be critical of the young woman – people love their pets – we certainly advise against people getting this close or aggressive to a bear,” a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife told McClatchy News. “She’s very lucky not to have been seriously hurt.”

That’s an assessment Morinoco ended up agreeing with. She told the news service: “Knowing all the risks and what could’ve happened, I don’t think I’d do it again.”

On the other side of the ring, the mother bear’s behaviour is certainly understandable. The classic defensive strategy for a female black bear protecting her cubs is sending them up the nearest tree. But she may be forced into more offensive protection if such a refuge isn’t available.

And black bears have an edgy relationship with canids. Grey wolves tend to dominate this smallest of North American bears (which, nonetheless, are still the third-biggest of the world’s ursids), representing a real threat to cubs and known to occasionally dig out and kill hibernating black bears. Hunting black bears with hounds, meanwhile, is allowed in a number of U.S. states: a controversial practice that can result in injuries to dogs inflicted by cornered bears. 

(Learn more about how to behave around black bears – normally shy or fearful around people, but potentially dangerous when provoked or, in rare cases, when evaluating us as possible prey – in this Earth Touch primer and via these tips from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife).

The bear-shoving routine from Southern California follows on the heels of quite a number of owner-saving-pet-from-wild-critter dramas in recent years, some of them similarly immortalised in viral videos.

This past November, for example, two from opposite sides of the world lit up the Internet: a woman shaking her weeks-old puppy from the coils of a carpet python in Australia and a man prizing his small dog from the jaws of a fairly little alligator in Florida. Speaking of gators, just last month a bigger specimen – reckoned at 2 to 2.7 metres (7 to 9 feet) long – dragged a young Labrador retriever underwater, also in Florida; here again, the dog’s owner was able to rescue it.

A video of a woman shaking her weeks-old puppy from the coils of a carpet python in Australia went viral last year.

Responding to the November gator incident, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission urged pet owners to be cautious: “We encourage everyone to take precautionary measures, particularly those who live or recreate near the water. Dogs and cats are similar in size to the natural prey of alligators.”

In February, a man in Estes Park, Colorado rescued his pooch from a mountain lion, though a dog in the same area wasn’t so lucky a few days later.

It’s all a good reminder to keep dogs under close control when sharing yardscapes and greenspaces with big critters – and, of course, to give wild animals plenty of personal space

Header image: Ben Forsyth