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Stafford in the news: People Magazine-Dog saves owner from bear








Dog with Chronic Injury Saves Owner From Grizzly Bear Attack

kate-carmen-768Photo: NANCY DUNHAM

NANCY DUNHAM @@NancyDWrites 10/20/2015 AT 4:13 PM ET
When a grizzly bear threw Kate Cholewa, 53, to the ground and jumped on her, his teeth ripping into her head, Cholewa’s black lab mix leapt into action and saved her life.

The attack came suddenly during the pair’s regular walk through their favorite place, Point of Rocks Fishing Access Site, not far from their home in Emigrant, Montana, near Yellowstone National Park.

“We were walking along enjoying ourselves,” Cholewa recounted to PEOPLE.

The Chicago native, who moved to Montana to attend graduate school in 1987, had never encountered a bear or even seen tracks during her walks with Carmen the dog, who she adopted as a pup 12 years ago and now weighs about 90 pounds. Like all area residents, though, Cholewa is well aware that bears are prevalent. The best way to avoid bear encounters, as signs throughout the area warn, is to ensure the animal hears your approach.

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So it wasn’t unusual that Cholewa sang as the two walked during the early afternoon of Monday, Oct. 12. She was actually midway through a rendition of Dido’s part in the Eminem song “Stan” when she glanced over and saw the hair on Carmen’s back standing up in a way she’d never seen before.

Until recently Carmen had always led the way on their walks. But after she was diagnosed with a torn ACL a year ago, Cholewa started taking the lead to protect Carmen’s delicate rear left leg. Though surgery could repair the tear — which vets predicted would result in Carmen’s death within six months of diagnosis — Cholewa sought alternate treatment so Carmen wouldn’t be traumatized by months of confinement in a kennel. Carmen continues to thrive.

“I was about two steps ahead of her when I turned and was face-to-face with a bear,” says Cholewa, who estimates the bear weighed about 500 pounds. “I have no idea if it jumped on me or hit me. All I know was that I was suddenly on the ground with a bear on top of me. I remember thinking ‘I’m going to die.’ “
Cholewa couldn’t see past the bear but felt Carmen’s presence and thought she heard her barking. Suddenly the bear stood up.

“I knew I was supposed to play dead, but I just couldn’t stop from scrambling away,” she says. “All I could think was that my dog was still there, probably being ripped apart.”

And that thought tore her heart apart.

Cholewa adopted Carmen from the Missoula Humane Society when the canine was just a puppy, and it didn’t take long for the duo to bond.

“I wanted a dog that loved hanging out, was content to just be with me while I worked,” says the author of the novel of Shaking Out the Dead, who is midway through her next book. “We bonded right away.”

Of course there’s no way that Cholewa could have known the extent to which that bond would be tested.

As she scurried from the attack, her heart pounding with fear, she grabbed her cell phone and called 911. As the operator asked if the bear followed her, Cholewa heard a rustle and turned to see Carmen bolt to her side.

“The only time I let go of my head [that was gushing blood] was when I was helping Carmen into the car,” she says. “Usually I help her because of her leg, but we both jumped in the car and waited” for the police to arrive.

As the ambulance transported Cholewa to the hospital, she told rescuers of her concern about Carmen. They assured her that Carmen was at Stafford Humane Shelter in Livingston, where she was cared for until Cholewa brought her home.

“It meant so much to know she was cared for and not alone,” says Cholewa. “I think it’s wonderful there are such places where I could adopt her and then would care for her when I couldn’t.”

Cholewa and Carmen are working to return to everyday life, though Cholewa doubts they ever truly will. That’s not because of the scrapes, cuts and bumps on Carmen or Cholewa’s facial bruises and head lacerations.

“I actually believe this was a sacred event,” says Cholewa, who awaits a copy of her 911 call to retrace the details of the incident. Various aspects of my professional life “made me cynical and I thought I would have to write my way out of them in my next book. But this encounter brought me out of that cynicism. I looked a grizzly in the eye – my dog looked a grizzly in the eye – and we both got out alive. This incident didn’t change the world, but it truly changed something in me.”


Many people don’t know that Stafford Animal Shelter’s resources and services extend well beyond surrenders, adoptions and stray reclaims.  We provide valuable services to the community through our special funds such as the “Guardian Angel Fund” which allowed us to help “hero dog” Carmen and her owner Kate when they were faced with this emergency situation. We also offer safe haven and care for animals in domestic violence households,  emergency evacuations (such as wildfires and floods) and cruelty/hoarding situations.  We could not offer these resources to our community without the help of individual and business donors.  We can be there for the animals, because you are there for us! Please consider donating in honor of Carmen and all the other dogs who are helped by Stafford Animal Shelter in their time of need!

A very special thank you to Kate Cholewa for the shout out in People Magazine! Carmen has certainly brought the spotlight to senior dogs and shelter dogs…two of our favorite things here at Stafford Animal Shelter! We’ve always known how special these dogs are, but thank you for sharing your story and influencing others to give shelter dogs a chance! They’ll save your life in ways you never thought possible…

Give securely online with the form to the right, or send your check to: Stafford Animal Shelter, 3 Business Park Road, Livingston, MT 59047. All donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law.

Stafford Animal Shelter Has New Pack Leader


Photo of Steve Leach with Jacob, who was just adopted, by Melanie Renee Photography

Stafford Animal Shelter in Livingston is pleased to introduce its new Executive Director, Steve Leach. Leach comes to Stafford with a strong business background and a lifelong love of animals. He believes his extensive experience as a marketing executive for some of the nation’s top magazine publishers (including Time, Inc., Hearst, and Conde Nast) will translate well into promoting Stafford and the important work it does.

Leach is impressed with the facility at Stafford, its dedicated and caring staff and board, the cadre of compassionate volunteers, and the services Stafford provides the community. “One of my first visitors was a veterinarian who has worked at Stafford and other shelters. He told me that for most animals that end up here, it’s the best day of their lives. I am committed to ensuring that statement remains true. I couldn’t be more proud or excited to be joining the Stafford team and to have the opportunity to make a difference.”

Board President, Sue Dailey, says Stafford shares Leach’s enthusiasm. “The members of the SAS board feel very fortunate to have Steve on board as our new Executive Director. His wealth of experience and enthusiasm will be a great addition to the Stafford team!” Stafford Animal Shelter, built in 1999, is there for you when your pet is lost, you’re ready to adopt a friend for life, or have animal behavior questions. The only nonprofit animal shelter in Park County, they serve the people and pets of the greater Southwestern Montana community as the only Shelter in the region that accepts all lost or unwanted pets; not just dogs and cats but small and exotic pets too. Stop by 3 Business Park Road east of Livingston Tuesday through Saturday between noon and 5 pm to meet the new Executive Director and the many pets waiting for homes – from puppies to parrots to barn cats to bunnies. To contact the new director, phone 406/222-1311 or email

Shelter Broken Into

breakin2Between 6 pm on Thursday February 5, 2015 and 8 am Friday, February 6 Stafford Animal Shelter was broken into by person/persons unknown. They pried open a kennel and forced a dog door to get in; all entry points have now been triple reinforced and will be nearly impossible to breach. While we are happy to report that no animals were hurt, we are very sad that someone chose to target a nonprofit serving pets. Stafford Animal Shelter keeps no cash, other than a few coins in a donation box, nor veterinary medications on the premises. While unhurt, the pets in the Shelter were traumatized and still exhibiting stress the next morning and a great deal of destruction was wrecked on the Shelter.

Stafford Animal Shelter was closed Friday, February 6th while the police breakin1investigated and the destruction was cleaned up. The Shelter will be OPEN for business again during normal business hours Saturday the 7th at noon.

Anyone with any information that may shed light on the crime is encouraged to contact the Park County Sheriff’s Office at 406/222-2050. The animals that experienced the break in are unable to shed light on the perpetrators. “There are forty eye witnesses but nobody’s talking,” says Executive Director Steve Leach referring to the Shelter pets we wish could tell us who the culprit was.

As Stafford Animal Shelter is in an isolated, nonresidential area we have been broken into three times before and would like to invest in a surveillance system to help prevent, and to prosecute, future crimes at the Shelter. Donors may make a note on any donation they would like to go to this fund. Checks may be mailed to 3 Business Park Road, Livingston, MT 59047 and secure online donations can be made at

Stafford Animal Shelter thanks our wonderfully supportive, caring community and appreciates the public’s understanding in our temporary closure.

Thanks to our friends in the media, the Livingston Enterprise and Bozeman Daily Chronicle, for helping get the word out  and our many friends in the community who have expressed their concern and made donations to the Surveillance System Fund.

Follow up article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and KZBK Channel 7.


Stafford Shelter Wins Award

KZBk imageStafford Animal Shelter is honored and pleased to have been nominated by members of the public for the KZBK and First Security Bank’s “Our Community First Award”. We received a fine plaque, donation from First Security Bank, and a television spot in which to talk about our services. See the video here and thanks to all our friends and supporters for thinking of us and the critters we serve with this award and every day with their support! Learn more and make year-end tax deductible donations here.

Rosie Fund Gets Help from the ASPCA ®

The Stafford Animal Shelter has a special fund just for animals who have one-time major medical needs called the Rosie Fund. It was created for Rosie, a dog who had fallen off the back of a pick-up and badly wounded her leg, which later needed to be amputated. We see a number of animals each year who need a considerable medical procedure like Rosie’s.

Before surgery

Before surgery

Earlier this year, we received a generous grant from the Lil BUB’s Big Fund for the ASPCA, to our Rosie Fund specifically for cats who needed special medical care.

Gracie May, who has been with us since September of 2013, developed entropion a few months ago. This is a condition in which the eyelids roll inward, causing lashes and hair to constantly scrape the surface of the eye. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness due to ulcers forming on the cornea, inflammation, or scaring. This irritating and painful condition can occur in young animals (some breeds, like pugs, are more predisposed to it) and is called “primary entropion.” Animals may also develop the condition later, which is referred to as “secondary entropion,” which is what Gracie had. Though the exact cause of hers is unknown, this can happen if there is an irritation to the eye causing eyelid spasms, trauma, or chronic inflammation. Gracie frequently squinted and had watery eyes, as can be seen in the “before” photo on the left. The hairs constantly scraping across her eye caused her pain. Like most other animals suffering from entropion, she required corrective surgery.

After surgery

After surgery

Thanks to Lil BUB and the ASPCA®, Gracie was able to have her surgery. She is now pain-free and feeling much happier; see her “after” photo on the right. Gracie May is a sweet, mellow girl who is still available for adoption!