“I Survived a Bear Attack”
Questions for Deb Freele, a woman who was mauled near Yellowstone in 2010.
Slate: What happened after that?
Freele: It’s hard to figure out timing. I was pretty well drugged up. I remember leaving Cooke City, and they were already trying to get questions answered while I was in the vehicle. I was on the way to the hospital; I don’t know if they were relaying that information to some of the game guys [bear managers]. It was on the trip that I had heard a call come over the radio that they had found a body.
Slate: How long did it take you to recuperate?
Freele: I was in the hospital for four days, and then I would say it took a good year to get my hand back and my arm back to a point where I was real comfortable with it. I had several weeks of physical therapy, and then it was a case of strengthening things.
Slate: How did you feel when you heard that the bear was going to be euthanized?
Freele: I knew a man was dead at this point; I knew the bear ate him. I said I understood that they would have to euthanize the female, and they asked me what I thought they should do with the cubs.
[I said,] I’m not comfortable with the idea of them being let loose in the park. If you can find a place that can take them and use them for educational purposes, that’s fine—a zoo setting. [Kevin Frey, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department official who spoke with Deb Freele about the cubs, told Slate that a victim's feelings are not taken into consideration when making decisions about bear management. He asked her opinion, he says, because he was curious about how the attack had affected her.]
I hate seeing things euthanized like that. On the other hand, I know a lot of people are going to be upset, but where are you going to put her? I was happy with the result.
There was a lot of pressure from outside people not to euthanize the bear. The wildlife guys got death threats. It was that bad. And if you go and read a lot of the comments and the articles online, [it seems like] they would have rather seen us all dead than the bear.
If I had walked upon that bear while I was out in the bush, and I startled it and it mauled me there, I wouldn’t have a problem saying that bear should have a pass, once. She was doing what she’s supposed to do. Protecting her cubs. But we were all sleeping. It was coming into the territory, looking for food, [but] there wasn’t any garbage. [The bear was] looking for meat in a tent. That kind of situation? The bear has to be put down.
Slate: Have you camped since the attack?
Freele: I have a bit of PTSD. But I’ve already been camping out in black bear country in Michigan. [Black bears] don’t really faze me too much. I follow all the rules; they behave the way they’re supposed to. The site I was in, there was a family of raccoons and the babies were sniffing around my tent—I thought the chemicals they used to treat it smelled like meat. When these little things were sniffing around my tent, I had a panic attack. The [PTSD] actually comes up when I’m playing this video game called Skyrim. I normally play Call of Duty, and I don’t have a negative response to that. But Skyrim has dragons and sasquatches and things that come at you—that one kicks off that reaction.
I want to go back to Yellowstone. I don’t think my husband will ever want to go back there, so I’ll have to wait until he croaks. But I think if I went camping back up in those areas, I’d definitely have an electric fence.
This interview has been condensed and edited.