Renee Levow enjoys walking with her two German shepherds in the wooded area near her home on Rum Springs Road, about a 15-minute drive from Myersville.
Lately, however, the 53-year-old has been nervous to step outside, because on Sept. 21, she was attacked by a bear.
Levow said her two dogs were off the leash when, about a half mile from her home, she spotted a black bear nearby in the woods.
Her female dog, Kylie, chased after the bear, which she said weighed about 150 pounds. The bear then charged at Levow, after Kylie returned to her.
"I could have touched the bear’s nose," Levow said this week about the encounter.
She is recovering at home from her injuries. The bear bit her two times above her left knee, wrestled her to the ground, stomped on her chest and damaged her face.
After playing dead for about 10 minutes — and her dogs Kylie and Bones possibly chasing the bear away — she called 911. Levow was sent to Meritus Medical Center near Hagerstown and then flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
A surgical team worked on her face for four hours, said Levow's husband, Steve. Renee said they had to sew up all her wounds.
"I have a good amount of damage, but I don’t know how it will turn out. It will be months until I know what I really look like," she said. "There may possibly be nerve surgery above my right eye. We don’t know yet, because of the swelling."
The Levows are glad the attack didn't turn out worse, and hope it raises awareness of the growing bear population in the area. Steve said since he moved to the area with his wife more than 20 years ago, he's never seen as many black bears in the area as he's seen in the last few months.
They said they've seen more than a dozen black bears around their home this summer, which is in a wooded area of the county, roughly six miles north of Gambrill State Park.
Harry Spiker, a bear biologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service, said the bear population has been growing in the state and region.
But bear attacks are rare, Spiker said, as the attack on Levow is one of only a few recorded in Maryland history. The last was in 2016, also in Frederick County.
Speaking with colleagues in similar positions throughout the region, Spiker said bear attacks usually happen because of three scenarios: Someone could intentionally or unintentionally be feeding the bear, through a bird feeder or other something similar; a person startles the bear when they encounter one at night.
The last scenario? Dogs.
"One of the most common [causes] is dogs … dogs and bears just don’t get along," Spiker said.
Spiker said it's also possible that many of the bears the Levows are spotting are moving through the region, not permanently living in the area.
Both the Levows and Spiker noted the topography and development in the region, as there is rolling farmland to the west and Frederick and its development to the east.
Because of this, the bears tend to travel along wooded ridge tops, like the area near Rum Springs Road.
"That is a natural funnel that the bears tend to come down," Spiker said, adding Maryland's healthy forested areas and plentiful food sources have likely led to an increase in the bear population since the mid-20th century.
DNR officials have set a trap in an attempt to catch the bear or others. Spiker said it's unlikely the bear would be put down if trapped because it would be difficult to know if it was the one that attacked Levow.
Both Steve and Renee urged people who bike or hike in the area to be alert for bears, and not to approach them if they see one. Steve thanked DNR for bringing up some cans of bear mace for protection.
"We encourage anybody who walks up here to carry bear mace," Steve said. "It's probably better than a gun."
"All I know is, I’m scared to death to walk right now ... People just need to know they need to be more cautious," Renee said. "And if they see one off in the distance, turn the other way and go back the way you were coming, don’t keep going because you just don’t know."
DNR officials have taken some steps to try to curb the growing bear population, Spiker said. That includes expanding the annual bear hunt in recent years to include Washington and Frederick counties, along with issuing 950 hunting permits for Oct. 26-30 of this year.
That's 150 more permits than 2019, Spiker said.
If people see a bear, keep your distance "and enjoy the view," he added. If the bear does notice them and approaches, people should wave their arms and try to appear big, and use a strong voice.
Never turn your back on the bear, and if anyone is attacked, try to strike it in the face or elsewhere. But black bears in the region are usually not aggressive, Spiker said.
"The key is to always make sure there’s an escape route for the bear … because nine times out of 10, they’re gone before you know it was even there," he said.