CALGARY — The last of the remaining members of Alberta Fish and Wildlife's first pair of bear management dogs has died at the age of 15.
Kuma the Karelian Bear Dog was one of Canada's first dogs assigned to track and direct bears.
Alongside his brother, Mica — who died at the age of 10 — Kuma assisted Fish and Wildlife officers in southern Alberta with keeping wildlife from wandering into dangerous scenarios for both the animals and the human population.
District officer John Clarke said at first it was just bears, but over time the dogs also worked with moose, cougars and bighorn sheep.
Kuma was retired in 2012 but he devoted his retirement years to public relations work such as visiting local schools and preschools, where he would be spoiled with treats and cuddles by the excited children.
Kuma's younger sister and former partner, Koda, now carries the lead in the field.
According to his handlers, there was no greater thrill for Kuma than to receive the command, "Get the bear!''
Kuma excelled at tracking and treeing bears and his skills drew the attention of documentarians and media outlets.
Clarke credits Kuma with saving his life on two occasions. The bear management dog fended off the advances of a ferocious grizzly bear and a rampaging moose during the pair's time together.
"It actually circled back on us,'' recalls Clarke. "I looked to my side and saw this moose coming at me.
"Kuma actually just dove in the air, hit it in the chest, and knocked it off balance. I was very impressed with how he did that. He got a steak that night.''
Clarke says Kuma never failed to do his job and made a lasting impression on so many people and animals in the Crowsnest Pass.
While he could terrify bears, cougars and other large wildlife, Kuma was gentle with people and other animals. Christy Pool of the Crowsnest Pass Bearsmart Association says Kuma became an important and valued part of the pet rescue and orphan wildlife program.
"It was not unusual to come in and find Kuma snuggling with a baby, whether it was a kitten, a puppy or a fawn,'' says Pool.
"Kuma set a standard higher than anyone could have expected out of a dog.''
(CTV Calgary, CTV Lethbridge)
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