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Friday, August 16, 2013

Neighbor comes to donkeys’ rescue in Hollis as bear chases them down road

HOLLIS – If you saw a bear chasing donkeys down the street, what would you do? Nancy Ploof, of Hollis, jumped into her husband’s car and took off after them.

“I said to my husband, quick come up and look!” Ploof recalled. “It looks like ponies, and there’s a huge black bear running after them!” ...

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HOLLIS – If you saw a bear chasing donkeys down the street, what would you do? Nancy Ploof, of Hollis, jumped into her husband’s car and took off after them.

“I said to my husband, quick come up and look!” Ploof recalled. “It looks like ponies, and there’s a huge black bear running after them!”

He called the cops, and she grabbed the keys to the Chrysler 300 sedan, planning to intervene.

“I just wanted to scare the bear,” she said.

Thus began a 20-minute Sunday afternoon adventure that was a step up from the usual suburban story of bears tearing down a bird feeder, and one that’s even unusual for farm country.

“Bears going after larger livestock is not the norm. More typical is a bear getting after chickens, and the occasional pig … not donkeys,” said Andrew Timmins, a wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish & Game, when told of the adventure.

The donkeys – Rosa and her 2-year-old son, Jester – are owned by Tom and Paula Lavoie. They are miniature donkeys, not much bigger than a Great Dane.

The Lavoies have owned the donkeys for a couple of years, keeping them in two backyard pens surrounded by sturdy wood fences.

It appears that the bear climbed over or deliberately broke down the fence to get at a tub of grain inside the barn.

“He clawed at one of the doors, “ Tom Lavoie said.

The Lavoies have encountered a bear before but have never had any problem like this.

“He takes my bird feeders once in a while; I haven’t filled them in quite a while,” Tom Lavoie said. “Earlier this summer, I was going fishing; I went out at 4:30 in the morning, and he was in the woods between the two houses. … He saw me and ran away. He ran into a tree, which was kind of funny.”

Ploof didn’t think the situation was funny Sunday as she drove east on Farley Road.

“By the time I got out of my driveway, they were far enough gone, out of sight. I went up the road and saw the bear still running,” she said. “He saw me, and took off – to the right, into the woods.

“The donkeys stopped too, turned around, looked back and started coming back toward me – then the bear came back out of the woods. He saw my car, went back into the woods,” she said.

Ploof knew where the donkeys lived but not the Lavoie’s name, so she couldn’t call them. She didn’t want to drive to their house, leaving the donkeys at the mercy of the bear again.

At that point, another car drove along Farley Road, stopping when it saw the donkeys.

Ploof said she went up and asked them, “would you stay here with your car in case the bear comes back, so it’ll see you and not go after the donkeys.” The couple in the car – she has not idea who they were – agreed, but then the donkeys figured things out and started trotting home.

Then, the police showed up. “The officer said ‘I don’t like horses, I don’t like donkeys, I’m not going near them!’ ” Ploof said.

Hollis police dispatch also called the Lavoie home, where Paula was in the basement. She hadn’t heard anything.

“It must have happened fairly quick. I wasn’t in the basement that long,” she said. “I’m glad I wasn’t up there. If I saw the bear chasing them, it would have been terrible.”

She took out some carrots and halters and brought the donkeys back from a neighbor’s yard.

“When we got them back, they were scared, wouldn’t come out of the barn at all,” she said. “They seem to be settling down now.”

As for the fence, it has been repaired.

“We had been told that a lot of farmers would get donkeys to protect livestock. But I guess they don’t protect from bears,” Paula Lavoie said.

Timmins knows what they need to do: Store grain so it can’t be detected by bears, which have a superb sense of smell, and install a three-wire electric fence. It only needs to be about three feet tall to keep out bears, he said.

“The fence is usually put up to keep the animal in, but you need just as much thought in keeping animals out,” he said.

Fish & Game usually hears about 600 or more bear complaints a year, about 20 of which require killing a bear or tranquilizing it and moving it, Timmins said.

Last year was a record for complaints, but this year has been very quiet, he said.

Those patterns are a reflection of the amount of food available in woods and fields. There are berries and nuts galore this year, so bears can get enough food in the wild without bothering people.

As for the Farley Road bear, Timmins plans no reaction.

“It hasn’t reached a point where it necessarily needs to be dealt with,” he said. “If it killed livestock, that would be different. If it persists, we may have to do something different.”

In fact, Timmins isn’t even sure the bear was chasing the donkeys – maybe it was just curious.

“I would believe less that it was chasing them down the street with any high hopes of catching them,” he said.

Still, bears in the wild have been known to kill deer fawns or moose calves, so it’s good to remember: Bears look cuddly but males can weigh 400 pounds or more, and need to be taken seriously.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).