Heard around the West

  • Gene Baierschmidt with Elvis, the pot-bellied pig

    Al Hartmann/Salt Lake Tribune
  In Salt Lake City, a fat pig must find a permanent home, says the Humane Society of Utah. The tusked animal is called Elvis, and like the singer at the end of his life, he has puffed up, weighing in at 175 pounds and still putting on the pork.


But the potbellied crossbreed is said to possess both brains and a sweet disposition, and he has become a favorite among volunteers. So if you want to adopt him, don't suggest to Humane Society staff that his destiny is bacon and chops. Director Gene Baierschmidt told the Salt Lake Tribune that potential adopters are screened for intent: "The Humane Society is not a grocery store." Elvis is "surely anybody's dream," Baierschmidt adds. "He's just a hunk-a, hunk-a burnin" love."





In Aspen, Colo., when you ask a man a question on the street, you can expect an offbeat answer. To the scenario posed by the Aspen Times: "Once upon a time, there were a dozen bears in Aspen ... How does the story end?" Dan Sheridan replied: "They could no longer afford to eat out in the fine restaurants, so now they're eating my garbage."


But in Whitefish, Mont., three bears skipped the garbage and headed right for the source: They tore off a screen door and romped around on a couch before "munching their way through the kitchen, pulling food out of the refrigerator," reports the Great Falls Tribune. When Sasha Montagu got home from work, the big bear bolted, leaving her two cubs to scramble their way through a window over the kitchen sink.





Grizzlies inspire respect, and often compassion, from those the formidable animal mauls. In Yellowstone National Park recently, a grizzly bit a tourist from Belgium on the leg so severely that the man, despite a storm, had to be airlifted to a hospital. Yet Peter Van Der Auwera says the attack was his fault: He startled the bear, which wanted to protect its yearling cub. "She was just reacting," the hiker told the Casper Star-Tribune.





The timing couldn't have been worse. A bear profiled by the Humane Society in a colorful book for children, Chocolate, A Glacier Grizzly, is the same bear that killed a man on May 18. Chocolate had been suggested to the society in 1996 by park researcher Kate Kendall. The grizzly had been successfully relocated in 1983, and seemed a natural candidate for an upbeat children's book about grizzlies. But just a few months after the book's debut, reports the Hungry Horse News, the "real-life star of the story mauled and killed Craig Dahl as he was hiking alone near Appistoki Falls." Dahl, 26, a concessions employee at the park, apparently ran from Chocolate and her cubs, which chased him downhill across a snowfield. Chocolate and her pair of 2-year-old cubs were killed after it was determined that all had eaten Dahl's body.


In a somewhat grisly scorecard, the Billings Gazette notes that since 1980, in Yellowstone National Park, bears have killed two people and injured 17. "During that same period in Glacier, a park half the size of Yellowstone, bears have killed seven people and injured 40, many seriously." Bear experts think that Glacier's steep terrain and small area force people and bears to travel through the same valley corridors in the summer, increasing surprise encounters.





"Since both those animals are nocturnal, I didn't think I had much to worry about until dark." That statement about bears and lions turned out to be flat wrong. Bowhunter Ken Adams made his first misstep after downing "his' elk near Buena Vista, Colo. He left the elk on the ground overnight, he told the Rocky Mountain News, because the air was cool. But that night, something came and gnawed at the elk. Despite the signs that he had some competition, Adams said he thought he had time the next day to cut up the carcass and pack it out. Until a bear charged. "I just shot straight up the tree," Adams said. The 250-pound bear climbed up after him four times, snapping her jaws and huffing. At one point she got close enough to sink her teeth into the heel of Adam's boot. For two hours she held Adams hostage 25 feet up in the tree before succumbing to a greater power - bullets. A state wildlife officer said he had to kill the animal because it showed no fear of humans.





Dog lovers can be fierce defenders of their pooches. In Santa Fe, N.M., people have accused dogcatchers of using "Gestapo-style" tactics, such as lurking behind trees to set "doggie traps' for unsuspecting people, reports AP. Once a leash is illegally unsnapped, the owner of the dog gets busted. The Denver Post reports a similar story, but in this case owners have organized, gathering in parks to "trade tips on where the dog police were last spotted." A white van gives away officials, who ticket owners for offenses such as allowing a dog to run at large - a $50 fine - or a $100 fine for a first-time barking offense. Getting busted for owning a bad dog turns some people testy, says officer James Lopez: "For a lot of people, their dogs are their babies."





Praise dogs as much as you want, but most make indifferent drivers. In Jackson, Wyo., a Rottweiler and a golden retriever sat in the front seat of a pickup as it traveled backward more than three blocks along a busy street. Cody and Montana did fine on the straightaway, but failed to negotiate a turn and the pickup hurtled into the front door of an unoccupied house. An attorney driving by says he'd been perplexed by the backwards-moving truck, telling his girlfriend, "That's damn good driving. I couldn't do that." Bill Fix then noticed the two dogs "just looking out the windshield at me - they were fine with it." After the crash, however, the Rottweiler behind the wheel "didn't like me reaching in there" to turn off the ignition, Fix told the Jackson Hole News. The dogs' owner, Stella Streppa, was thrilled that her truck and her pooches hadn't been stolen. But she wasn't pleased with their joy ride, and has grounded them.


*Betsy Marston





Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or betsym@hcn.org.