Woman, puppy startled as bear surprises them at front door of Florida home

Gina Helsel and her 9-month-old golden doodle Stewart were startled by a black bear in their yard. Helsel said Stewart, one of her three dogs, was barking overnight. She decided to let him out.

"I thought there were just cats on the porch because there’s always just cats on the porch," Helsel said. "So I’m like I’m going to take him and let him bark at the cats and we can sleep the rest of the night. But I got a surprise. Yogi was out there."

It happened around 3 a.m. Thursday. It was the first time Helsel spotted a bear in 12 years living in Daytona Beach’s Grande Champion neighborhood.

"I’ve never been scared like that before," Helsel said. "It was terrifying. All I can remember thinking was ‘I’m glad I’m half asleep because if I were wide awake, I’d probably be having a heart attack at this point.’"

The Florida Wildlife Commission estimates there are more than 4,000 bears across Florida. Mike Orlando, FWC bear program lead manager, said bear sightings are common.

"That bear has probably been walking at 3:00 in the morning across your yard for the last 5 years," Orlando said. "You just never knew it was happening until you got that ring camera."

Orlando said bears become more active approaching the fall because they’re looking to pack on pounds for the winter. Orlando said trash left outside is an easy target.

"If they can find something that holds their interest–cat food, garbage, birdseed–they're going to stop and they're going to take advantage of that easy meal because those have high calories," Orlando said.

Helsel said her list of wildlife to watch for has grown.

"I’m always on the lookout for gators because we do get gators here, and I’m always on the lookout for snakes," Helsel said. "We have a lot of wildlife here. I didn’t expect it to be at my front door."

The FWC recommends keeping trash inside overnight to avoid meeting a bear. The group also suggests banging on your door or flashing porch lights on and off before going outside.