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Beardogs - A Bear's Best Friend

It's happened in Yosemite and other parks in the northwest - bears, no longer afraid of humans, turn over cars and trash campsites in search of food. They often end up having to be euthanized. Now, as CBS Evening News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, experts are turning to what may be an unusual source of salvation for the bears - dogs bred to hunt them.

It looks like one of those heart-melting circus stunts. The loveable bear turns a car into a breadbox, stealing the food stored inside. But there's nothing sweet about it. A fed bear is a dead bear.

In the words of biologist Carrie Hunt, "Once a bear's learned the problem behavior, the bear's dead within one or two years."

They've become a majestic menace in the great northwest - bears that ransack cars and cabins in search of food.

Tim Manley, is with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. He says, "The most difficult part of my job is to go in, trap a bear and euthanize it because we know there are things we can do to keep that bear alive."

Topping the list is an unlikely looking source of salvation. Karelian beardogs from Finland. Bred to hunt bear, they've now turned teacher.

In the mountains of Utah, biologist Carrie Hunt is trying to launch a reform school for bears, and breeding Karelians as her drill instructors. It's a place where, for the first time, dog and bear meet face-to-face to judge which puppies will be most effective.

As Hunt puts it, "You have to have a dog the bear knows isn't bluffing because the dog is telling the bear 'I'm not afraid of you and if you don't move, if you don't leave, I'm going to get you'."

These puppies won't get much bigger than a collie, which might not seem like much of a match against a half-ton grizzly. But, as the old saying goes, it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

Karelian Puppies At Play (CBS)

The fight in the grown-up Karelian serves as a snarling, life saving warning for bears to look elsewhere for food.

"You know, the basic thing is that you have to believe that bears can think and feel, and that they don't want trouble," Hunt says.

In bear country, a bear's sharp teeth are testing a litter full of puppies. Those who pass will try to save a generation's worth of bears.

Doug Sues, a bear trainer, explains: "When you go into bear country, it's not spiritless. It's not silent. It's filled with emotion."

It is a threatened spirit, entrusted now to a pack of puppies who will save only what they can scare.

For more information on the beardog training program, visit The Wind River Bear Institute website. Phone and Fax: (435) 654-6644

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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