Toby was John Wacker's beloved black Labrador retriever. He swears the 8-year-old dog could speak English – at least the words "water" and "hello" – and was very obedient and loyal, Forum News reports.
But last week, Toby died after he was attacked by a bear. Wacker says Toby gave his life to protect his 45-year-old son Chris Wacker, who was out with the dog picking mushrooms near Wacker's northwestern Minnesota home.
Chris Wacker noticed a family of black bears nearby and told Toby to stay, but the dog disappeared into the brush, KFGO says. A few minutes later Toby ran back towards Chris Wacker and a bear, estimated at 300 pounds, was chasing him, Forum says.
About 10 yards from Chris Wacker, the bear attacked the dog.
“Chris said he’d never seen anything so violent in his life,” John Wacker told Forum. “The bear took Toby and (smashed him from side-to-side) wham, wham, wham – it was sheer muscle and violence."
Chris Wacker scrambled into the house, and Toby returned about 10 minutes later with claw marks 4-to-6 inches deep and bite marks on his shoulder, Forum says.
His family brought him to the vet and he died a few days later.
Conservation Officer Chris Vinton told KFGO that residents in the area have had some problems with bears in the past. Wacker believes the bear that attacked Toby has been raiding bird feeders and killing neighbor's animals, Forum says.
“This bear has become brazen, she’s aggressive, she would have killed Chris … Toby saved his life, I’m convinced of that,” Wacker told Forum.
Chris Wacker disagrees.
“I’m pretty sure the bear didn’t have any interest in me,” Chris Wacker told Forum. “We just got in the wrong situation, with the cubs and a male bear and a female bear, it was not a good place for a dog, especially a big black one.”
Chris Wacker may be right. Canadian researcher Stephen Herrero, a world-recognized bear expert, has recently challenged the idea that dogs help protect their owners, saying the presence of a dog may actually attract bear attacks, according to CBC News.
Black bear attacks are uncommon in Minnesota. There have only been five black bear attacks in Minnesota since 1987, and only one known attack that was unprovoked, the DNR says.
The most recent attack happened last summer. A northern Minnesota woman was attacked by an adult black bear after her dog ran after two young bears. The DNR believes the presence of the yearlings led to the attack.