Polar Bears and Dogs

Brian Ladoon of Churchill, MB, breeds sled dogs in the midst of polar bears. Each summer, the bears come ashore from Hudson Bay and wait for ice to re-form in fall so they can go out and hunt seals again.

Instead of shooting bears that come near his dogs, Brian worked out a way to coexist.

He found that most of the bears simply wanted to play. So did the dogs. He found he could stake out the dogs and let the bears and dogs play.

In the fall, when scores of strange bears pass through on their way to Hudson Bay, the local bears became his allies. Dominant local bears hazed strange bears away. Whether or not it was their intent, the dominant local bears prevented any non-playful strange bears from hurting the dogs.

Brian’s plan worked reasonably well for over two decades until disapproving officials stepped in and removed several local bears in October 1996. Then, a strange bear killed several dogs. The article below tells what happened.

Not a Random Bear Attack
by Galen Rowell

Abridged from Outdoor Photographer Magazine, May 1997

In October 1996, a polar bear ran amok through Brian Ladoon’s remote sled dog camp eleven miles outside Churchill. It killed 6 dogs, ate two, and wounded 12 more.

Actions of game wardens precipitated the attack. Wardens knowingly thwarted Ladoon’s novel strategy that had saved countless bears and dogs. Instead of shooting bears, Ladoon allowed natural play between the bears and dogs. Only occasionally did he usher rare bad actors out of camp to the tune of shotgun cracks. Dominant bears accustomed to his dogs usually performed that task on their own.

The tragedy began after a group attempted to visit Ladoon’s camp to see the bears and dogs. Their vehicle became stuck in snow. A polar bear lay down and went to sleep thirty feet away. A game warden “rescued” the celebrities and informed Ladoon that he had put visitors at risk. Twelve officials and a helicopter soon appeared at Ladoon’s camp and removed five large bears that were friendly to his dogs.

Ladoon worried that without them his camp would be “open to every meandering bear that comes through.” He kept a daytime vigil in near-zero temperatures and 30 mph winds.

The carnage began in total darkness while Ladoon was in town. A bear ignored meat set out as a deterrent and attacked the dogs, eating one. The next morning, Ladoon came upon five dead and eleven wounded dogs. The next night, two more dogs were attacked and another one eaten. The next day, Ladoon shot an adult male polar bear.

Ladoon said the game wardens should have “respected that I’ve been dealing with bears without problems for over twenty years.”

Before the incident, only four of his dogs had died from bear interactions in 23 seasons. None was attacked or eaten. Ladoon believes all four prior incidents were a result of bears becoming entangled in the dogs’ chains and accidentally breaking the dogs necks in their attempts to get free.

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