Bear dog's injury sparks call for donations

When a wildlife service dog was hurt on the job, it meant a $4,000 surgery.

But the state couldn't pay for it.

The Karelian Bear Dog program, considered vital by many wildlife workers, is running out of money. The program is strictly funded by donations, even though the state owns the dogs.

"We're not flush with money. We're actually just scraping by," said Fish and Wildlife Captain Bill Hebner. "There's a lot of things we could do if we had more money, just like any other program. The dogs are here and our handlers are committed to making sure they stay here for a long time."

That includes "Cash," one of the Karelian bear dogs.

Cash was working in the woods when he tore a ligament in his left knee. Plates and screws hold his knee together now, and he is healing well.

But the check-up brought bad news, too.

Cash also injured his right knee and could be in for another expensive surgery.

"His vet bill for the original injury was pretty much draining our existing fund source and with the bad news we got today, frankly I don't know where we're going to come up with the money to pay for that," said Capt. Hebner.

That won't keep Cash's handler, Rich Beausoleil, from moving forward.

That's in part because of how hard Cash works.

When it's time to go nose-to-nose with a bear, he doesn't back down. He's at the front of the line, pounding through the woods when a bear gets too close to homes.

And when Bellevue City Councilman John Chelminak was attacked by a bear, Cash cornered the bear at midnight in the pouring rain, so officers could take it down.

Beausoleil firmly believes if it weren't for Cash, that deadly bear would have gotten away, causing panic in the neighborhood.

That hero dog is healing well, with plates and five screws holding his left knee together.

He had a good prognosis, though it could be months or even a year before he's working again.

That makes Beausoleil's job tougher.

"It's night and day," he said. "The dog, he's made me a better biologist. He's made me more effective to the agency and the public."

That's part of why the veterinarians at Kirkland's Puget Sound Animal Hospital discounted the bill.

"If we can do something to make it possible for the animal to continue as a service dog, then we feel that's just our part of helping out the department and the public in general," explained Dr. Mark Engen.

Cash will need more of that generosity.

"There's a lot of headaches but it's all good because that dog's a champ," said Beausoleil.

In addition to Cash, there are three other Karelian bear dogs currently working with wildlife officers in Washington state.

Two more officers within the department will get KBD puppies in late February. Those officers have been personally raising money for a couple years, earmarked for the purchase. Continuing expenses of feeding and caring for the dogs comes from donations.


If you would like to support the KBD Program, send a check to WDFW KBD Fund, Attn: Cpt Bill Hebner, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek, WA 98012.