Leah Reeder credits her dog with saving her life.
The 15-year-old was listening to music, walking her springer spaniel Ralph near her home in Eastpoint, Florida, Sunday, when, out of nowhere, a black bear appeared and attacked her.
“I was down on the ground, and ended up on my face,” she told ABC News. “The bear was on my back biting me.”
What she did during the attack may have helped save her life.
“In school they teach you to play dead. I just did that, and it worked,” Leah said. “It stopped biting me as soon as I stopped screaming.”
Then Ralph stepped in, all 25 pounds of him, barking and lunging at the bear. Leah says that seemed to scare away the bear, which backpedaled, stumbled into a ditch and turned tail. But Leah still wasn’t sure she was safe. She continued to play dead.
“I waited long enough that it didn’t come back, maybe a minute,” she said.
She managed to pick herself up and walk to her father’s house, and paramedics were called.
Leah endured hours of surgery after the attack, receiving hundreds of stitches for the wounds to her neck, head, back and arms. But she was able to eat Christmas dinner with her family, something for which the family was thankful.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it shot a bear late Thursday that the agency suspects attacked Leah. The incident marks the latest in a spate of bear attacks in central Florida, with six fatalities nationwide in 2014.
Bear experts warn that running from a bear or turning one’s back to it triggers its predatory instinct. They say walking backward slowly is often the safest way to end an encounter, adding if a black bear actually attacks, one should try to fight it off.