FREMONT — While it wasn’t exactly a bull in a china shop, when a black bear decided to let itself into a Fremont family’s SUV during a camping trip to Colorado this month, the results were about as close as you could come to recreating the old saying in real life.
The bear tore into seats and door panels, slobbered all over windows and caused quite a stir for James and Stephanie Cattlett as they slept in a nearby cabin.
While on their annual trip to Colorado, with their 10-year-old son Maxx, 5-year-old daughter Sophie and Stephanie’s parents, the group awoke to curious noises coming from the couple’s Hummer SUV parked just outside their cabin near Allenspark.
“It was 3 or 4 in the morning and all of a sudden we hear my husband’s Hummer start honking,” Stephanie Cattlett said. “We look out the window and the lights are blinking, the turn signals are on, the hazard lights are on, and we just thought, ‘What the heck is going on?’”
Cattlett’s father, Rich Lauritsen, and her husband made the decision to go see exactly what was causing the ruckus.
The two approached the vehicle, with Lauritsen going around the front of the vehicle and shining his light through the windshield.
“You could hear the scratching and clawing and it was just the worst sound ever,” Cattlett said. “But my dad shines his flashlight in the front and there is a bear sitting in the driver’s seat looking right at him.”
After backing away from the vehicle, and realizing that they didn’t have a landline phone or service on their mobile devices, the pair decided the best course of action was to try and open one of the doors to let the bear out.
Lauritsen looped around to the passenger side, opened the door and headed for safety.
“Luckily the bear was able to find his way out,” Cattlett said. “We all just sat around and talked for hours after because we just couldn’t believe it.”
When they went out to assess the damage the next morning, the family found that the bear had really done a number on the vehicle.
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“It totally destroyed every door panel inside the car, scratched and punctured up the roof, some of the interior, left a nice claw mark on my son’s vest, which was in the car at the time and pooped all over,” Cattlett said. “We had bear slobber and nose prints all over the windows and interior, on my phone, which was in the car, too.”
They estimate the bear caused about $8,000 in damage.
Lauritsen, a retired auto mechanic, was able to put some of the door panels back in place, and with help from some trusty duct tape, the Cattletts were able to drive the vehicle back to Fremont.
Cattlett said that while they attempted to remove all the food from the vehicle to avoid such situations, with two young children sometimes it can be difficult.
“I think my daughter had left a Nutter Butter or something in there,” she said.
They suspect the bear opened a door and crawled into the SUV, which was parked on an incline. After the door closed behind the bear, it was unable to get out on its own.
Cattlett says she's thankful that no one got hurt and that they were staying in a cabin and not tents. The family looks back at the situation with humor.
“Of course my daughter slept through the whole thing,” she laughed.
Lauritsen also earned a new nickname from his two grandkids after bravely releasing the bear from the vehicle.
“Before my kids always called my dad papa, and now they call him papa bear,” Cattlett said.