Allena Hansen was outside working on her mountaintop ranch in Caliente, Calif. this summer when the unthinkable happened: a young black bear leaped out from a thatch of willow trees and bit into her face, “like when I bite into a stalk of celery, only infinitely more resonant,” Hansen told PEOPLE. Miraculously, her dogs Deke and Archimedes jumped to defend her. Though her scars have healed from the July 22 attack, she still vividly recalls her face to face encounter with the bear and how her loyal dogs rushed to her aid.
Deke, a mastiff, and Archimedes, an Irish wolfhound, saved her life by allowing the bear to release her long enough so she could get away. “Deke was underneath me and the bear was chewing on his stomach and Deke was screaming and yelling, and I thought: ‘It’s killing my dog, that jerk! And I thought: if Deke is willing to die for me, the least I could do is get up and try to escape,” recalls Hansen. And escape she did, tumbling 200 yards down a hill.
The dogs too escaped the clutches of the bear (they suffered only minor injuries) and Archimedes helped lead Hansen to her car, which she then drove three miles – with half of her face hanging off and profusely bleeding– to a nearby firehouse where authorities were stunned that she got away.
“I know some people who cut their finger and faint, and here’s a woman with half her face gone, with the presence of mind to give her Social Security number,” says Curt Merrell, who greeted Hansen at the local firehouse. “I believe it was her will to live that kept her going.”
Hansen was treated at UCLA Medical Center where the plastic surgery team said her case was the worst they have ever seen. She received 1,000 stitches during an intense surgery involving a team of doctors, plus several follow up surgeries. She still doesn’t have sensation in much of her face. Despite the very painful ordeal, Hansen is surprisingly upbeat about what happened to her. And she doesn’t harbor any bad feelings toward the bear. “It belongs here, it lives here,” she says. “They’ve got as much right to be here as I do, but until they start paying property tax, I’m going to assert my dominance!”