From the time she was just 8 years old, Carrie Hunt dreamed of talking to animals. She became an animal trainer when she was 11 and always had a special place in her heart for bears. In adulthood, when she became a wildlife biologist, she was always confused as to why bears were being destroyed just because they got into human food. Although many times the culprits were relocated, they normally found their way back to the source of the food. "(Relocation) drains their energy and they’re ultimately destroyed because they come back almost every time," says Hunt. When a Norwegian bear biologist mentioned that he used Karelian Bear Dog to locate brown bear, Hunt had a wonderful idea. Why not use this dog to chase away the food-hoarding bears!
Hunt searched for several years before she found a 4-week-old Karelian pup in Wyoming that was perfect for her plan. She named the pup Cassie and began her "bear herding" project. Hunt went on to found the Wind River Bear Institute, now based in Florence, MT and Cassie became its matriarch.
Now in its 13th year, Hunt "teaches grizzlies and black bears to mind their manners – and she couldn’t do it without her dogs." She currently owns nine adult Bear dogs and two puppies. She has gotten calls from New Jersey, Canada or even Japan where she, three dogs and three human members of her team set out to assist. Once the dogs locate the bear, the canine team begins a frenzy of barking as the humans shout at the bear. As the bruin begins to retreat, he is peppered with rubber bullets, which sting but cause no permanent injuries. As the bear flees, the team backs off. "We have 200 to 300 bear actions per year and in 13 years, have never had a person or dog hurt," explains Hunt.
Cassie died in 2000 and Eilu, who was brought over from Finland, has taken over her duties as matriarch. Hunt and Eilu visit schools, law enforcement and civic groups to help them discover ways to remove temptation from hungry bears. She also explains that "Karelians don’t make good pets. They’re too independent and intense." She describes the dog native to Finland as "pedigreed pepper spray." The black and white Karelian Bear Dog is currently accepted by the United Kennel Club (UKC) and is on the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Foundation Stock Service list, which is a first step to full AKC recognition.