A bear attacked as she walked her dog. Now she's able to thank the Virginia first responders who saved her.

Posted at 4:52 PM, May 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 07:55:48-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A black bear attacked Wendy Cowan while she walked her dog Ripley near her parents' Lunenburg County home last fall. Eight months later, Cowan finally got the chance to thank the first responders who helped save her.

"I'm so glad you're OK," Victoria Fire & Rescue EMT Chelsea Mayton said while hugging Cowan during their meeting on Tuesday.

"They're just wonderful. I mean, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for these guys," Cowan said about the first responders. "I just knew I was going to be okay. I didn't have any doubts about that."

Wendy Cowan Bear Attack

Cowan was in much better shape Tuesday than when she last met the first responders.

It was October 2023 when Ripley ran ahead of Cowan during a walk near the woods.

When the dog came out of the woods running toward Cowan, a black bear was hot on its trail.

"I thought, 'I need to scare this bear away.' So I was making a lot of noise, screaming," Cowan said.

That did not work and the bear bit her leg.

She then tried to make herself look as big as possible, but the bear did the same.

"At that point, I knew I wasn't going to be able to scare her away," she said.

As she fled and fought, Cowan said the bear attacked from behind, fracturing her neck and continuing to bite and claw.

"She clawed me from my face from here, stopped at my eye, and then continued down," Cowan said.

Wendy Cowan Bear Attack

She eventually curled into a ball and the bear left her alone.

"There was a moment where I thought, you know, this might be it. But, there was a calmness there. I didn't feel agitated," she said.

She was able to find her phone and call her parents' neighbor.

Ripley did what she could to help.

"I like to think she had a Lassie moment. She ran to the neighbor's house as soon as my call went through," she said.

First on the Scene

Along with Kenbridge firefighters, Chelsea Mayton and Johnny Crenshaw with Victoria Fire and Rescue were first on the scene.

"That is a once in a lifetime, probably career thing, for both of us," Mayton said. "We told the fire chief, 'Hey, let's get MedFlight in the air. Let's get somebody to come in, you know. She needs to go up north."

That activated the MedFlight program which is run by Virginia State Police and Chesterfield Fire & EMS.

"The stars aligned that day that we actually had a physician flying with us as well," Chesterfield Fire & EMS paramedic Nik Ronesi said.

The team of four flew in, cutting down potential travel time by 45 minutes, and transported Cowan to VCU Medical Center.

Wendy Cowan Bear Attack

During that flight, Cowan received a whole blood transfusion, something MedFlight had only recently started doing at that time.

"She was as relaxed as somebody could be in that situation," Ronesi said."I think it's great to see all this to the end and to see a positive outcome, we rarely get to see that."

Conservation and wildlife officers who caught and euthanized the bear said Cowan did everything right in the attack.

They said while black bear attacks are rare in Virginia (averaging one or fewer per year) they encourage people to be cautious.

"If you are hiking or walking in bear country, having bear spray and keeping your pets on a leash are really the best things," Katie Martin, with the Department of Wildlife Resources, said.

While Cowan had met with the MedFlight team last week, Tuesday's reunion involved at the first responders and was a welcome one for them who called saving Cowan a team effort.

Wendy Cowan Bear Attack

"As rewarding as it is for me, honestly I'm more inspired by her than anything else," Mayton said.

"I'm not a victim. I can get over this. And I can be better than I was," Cowan said. "Not only did [the first responders] take care of me, but if something happens to you, they're going to come and help you too. I mean, that's just such a wonderful thing."

Even though Cowen said she'll never go back to the spot of the attack, per requests from loved ones, she does plan to go out with the Department of Wildlife Resources this summer to take part in their tagging program to track other bears in that area.

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