A Tennessee woman got quite a scare at her home one recent evening when she heard her dog barking frantically downstairs in the bedroom where her children slept.
When Gatlinburg resident Priscilla Epperson got downstairs in the Glades subdivision house off U.S. Highway 321, Coco the dog was running circles around a black bear.
Epperson said she had not yet locked up for the evening about two weeks ago, and the exterior door to her bedroom, which she described as a mother-in-law's suite, apparently didn't completely latch when it was shut last.
"I was upstairs doing some laundry and the bear had pushed my bedroom door open," she said.
Her three children were asleep on the bed where they had been watching a movie, Epperson said.
"I have a spastic little dog and she went nuts. I came down there and she had chased the bear outside and freaked it out. She was running circles around the bear," Epperson said. "She was running so fast, it looked like the bear got confused and just took off running up the driveway."
Epperson said she didn't want to yell at her dog to stop because she feared the bear would maul the dog. When the bear ran up the driveway, Coco took off after it, but returned when Epperson called to her.
"She came back and sat by my bedroom door for an hour with every hair on her back standing straight up like a porcupine," Epperson said. "I've seen a million bears since I've been here, but I've never seen one run from a dog. It was cool. Had Coco not been down there, the bear could have been walking around my bedroom with the kids in there. The bear didn't do anything. The bear was in shock."
Epperson said she had fixed dinner at the kitchen in the downstairs suite that evening and the bear probably smelled food and came through the door for that reason.
Epperson adopted the dog from Brian P. Spiezio, a family friend who said he originally met Coco when some Sevierville business owners gave her to his dad after they found the dog on the street.
"My dad's dog passed away and he was sad," he said.
Spiezio said the dog lived a charmed life.
His father and mother had the dog for about six months. During that time they took Coco to Florida on vacation where a pit bull mauled her at a place where she was being kept with a trainer.
A veterinarian patched up the animal for free and soon after Spiezio's parents decided to move to Florida for good. They had to give Coco up, and that's when Epperson adopted her, Spiezio said.
"Every day she sends us stories about Coco and lets us know how happy they are about adopting her," Spiezio said.
Spiezio wasn't surprised when he learned Coco had put herself between the children and a bear.
"I know what kind of character she is. It is a high-energy dog who loves kids. I can see it being very protective and being a high-energy defender in the Smokies," he said.
"That dog has been through a lot. To be given away, put on the street, mauled by a pit bull, recover and then save kids from a bear is pretty remarkable."