Love Affair With A Bear Runs Afoul Of The Law
October 31, 2005

COOS BAY, Ore. -- For nine days, Rocky and Jonathan Perkett heard a lone black bear cub wail from its hiding spot in a Coos County logging site.

They could drop a tree on it or rescue it. They chose the latter and for two years the bear was like family. But when the authorities got wind of it, there was trouble a-bruin.

The father and son named her Windfall and raised it for two years.

The men shared pizza and Dr Pepper with the bear and gave her free reign of their home in the woods outside Coos Bay.

The bear slept in Jonathan Perkett's bed, took showers and even had her hair blow-dried, Rocky Perkett says.

"We're not lying about it," says Rocky Perkett, 54, in his thick backwoods drawl. "We lived with her. We loved her. We treated her like a daughter."

But that kind of love is illegal in Oregon, and last week police raided their home and took Windfall.

The men face possible charges for holding the bear without permits and in an unlicensed facility.

The incident pits the heartstrings of some animal lovers against state statutes meant to keep wild creatures in the wild.

"The law says you can't hold wild animals in any way," says Wildlife Administrator Ron Anglin of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"It's illegal to transport a bear without a permit," Anglin says. "Nobody's going to take you to task over that if you take it to town, call the ODFW and report it. (But) you can't take it home."

The Perketts maintain Windfall never was "held" or locked in a cage.

They simply opened their house to her, Rocky Perkett says. She could come and go at will, he says. She learned to work the doorknobs, he said.

"Is there a law against a bear running around in your yard?" Perkett says. "Doesn't she have rights as a bear?"

The Perketts plan to hire an attorney and hope a glitch in the Oregon State Police's search warrant will get the case tossed out, and in the best of cases get Windfall returned to them.

"Everything they done here was unlegal," Rocky Perkett says. "Since it's all unlegal, I hope they will bring her back."

No citations have been issued yet but holding a bear without a permit is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,350 fine.

Meanwhile, the bear has been shipped to a California Department of Fish and Game holding facility, where it will remain until the case is concluded.

The bear's likely future is at an accredited zoo or a permanent holding facility, Anglin says. None has yet been found, he says.

The bear likes people too much to be released into the wild, Anglin says.

Perkett acknowledges there's little chance of getting the bear back. But he hopes good intentions and lack of understanding of the law will discourage prosecution.

"We're hicks. We're mountain men," Perkett says. "We took her because she was dying and we loved her.

"The only thing we did wrong was love one another," he says.

ODFW biologist Stuart Love, who helped tranquilize and seize the bear, says he doesn't doubt it.

People's personal attachment to wild animals makes seizures like this "the worst part of my job," Love says.

"You could see the hurt in those guys' eyes when we took it," Love says. "But there's no way we could leave that bear with them. It could end up killing someone."