SMICKSBURG — Meet Boomer. She’s your average Australian shepherd, and makes northern Indiana County her home.
Her coat’s a mottled mix of black, white and brown, in no particular way. She’s one of the ones they call “ghost-eyed” dogs, with magnetic blue eyes.
She’s a purebred, too. Registered under the name Sound of Thunder.
She’s a bobtailed 30 pounds of energy and has whupped an animal, oh, 10 times her size.
Yep. It happened earlier this month.
The AKC says Australian shepherds — known as Aussies, although there’s nothing Australian about them — were the 22nd most popular breed in the U.S. in 2012, up from No. 35 just three years ago.
But Boomer is No. 1 on the Dilts family dairy farm in North Mahoning Township, where she has grown up with Bob and Connie Dilts and their kids, Senneca and Zane.
For all of her seven years, Boomer has done her instinctive duty. Herding the livestock, showing groundhogs their exit from the grounds.
And she’s the alpha to a younger Aussie named Reina, a 3-year-old learning what it is to keep order out in the country.
It was on Aug. 4 when Boomer passed her biggest test yet, staving off a bold black bear that charged Connie Dilts during her routine morning walk on the back roads near their home.
“It’s a walk I’ve walked for 17 years. It’s about a five-mile loop I make,” Connie said. Deer, birds, rabbits and raccoons are the usual sights.
With Connie and her Aussies about a mile from reaching home again, they approached a curve on Whitaker Road, a remote stone and dirt lane that the township doesn’t bother with in the winter.
To Connie’s right, a cornfield. To the left, the woods. And just ahead, where Boomer and Reina had scouted out the turf, the dogs had doubled back with a bear lumbering along between them, charging toward Connie.
“I heard the bear before I saw it,” Connie said. “They make a sound when they run, like ‘whoo, whoo, whoo,’ like that. I looked up and the bear was in between my dogs, running out of the woods, about 20 feet in front of me. The dogs were running with the bear, it was very odd. And the bear made a beeline right toward me.”
Boomer and Reina kept up with the bear but didn’t have its attention.
And why the bear went at Connie is a mystery to her.
An avid hunter, Connie said she sees bears most often during hunting season. But on her daily walk in the farm area, Connie said she crossed paths with a bear only once, more than 10 years ago.
“Bears usually don’t want anything to do with you. As soon as they see you, you’re gone. They run from you. So it’s never been a fear for me.”
And there was the bear she found one day on the farmstead, taking a dip in the big pond near their house on a hot summer afternoon a few years back. It ended up just going away and didn’t bother anyone.
Not so this time.
In seconds, the bear was upon Connie.
“It was big. Bears are hard to gauge but my guess is 300 pounds, and it was taller than me,” Connie said.
Then it raised a paw.
“It stood up to slice me, to swat at me. I got slashed on my wrist and I fell back, or I would have been sliced to the bone,” Connie said. “Then it lunged to bite me in my face, and I fell back again and it got me in the shoulder.”
Somehow it drew blood, from a quick bite or another scratch, puncturing her shoulder, nearly ripping the sleeve from her shirt, and leaving a long-lasting bruise.
“It just took both its paws and it pushed me, on my shoulder,” she said. “Then it went ‘whoof,’ and I felt the breath on my face. It flung me, like I was nothing, like I was a sack of potatoes. And I landed so hard I ripped the seat of my pants.
“And it all happened so fast, in seconds. It seemed like it went in slow motion.”
Struggling to regain her feet, Connie screamed once, then blurted out an attack command. Boomer jumped on the bear while Reina stayed to her side, refusing to retreat.
“She never left me while Boomer fought the bear. That’s honorable itself.”
Boomer, she said, went all out to stop the bear from attacking her.
“She knew I was in trouble, she leapt on the bear, onto its side, its back, neck and shoulder, and she started biting it. Like a cat. She was hanging on it like a cat,” Connie said.
“The bear was down on all fours and had its lip curled up and growling at me. It’s trying to shake her off, shaking her head and swatting to get Boomer off, but it was still approaching me. And this was my moment of panic. I thought, ‘this is it.’ Because if she can’t stop it …”
Connie said Boomer shifted her position while clinging to the bear, hanging on while the bear tried to shake her off, and finding a way to go face to face with the animal.
“She was like a viper, striking, and biting and biting. … It was vicious,” Connie said, choking back sobs. “She was giving her life for me. She didn’t care anything for herself. It was a sight to behold. She probably did it like 15 times, again and again and again. And she must have landed (a bite on) on an ear or the nose, something that really hurt, because it let out a yelp, a bad sound. It tossed her to the ground, and then it turned and ran down through the corn field.”
It disappeared into the tall stalks of corn, and so did Boomer, still in pursuit.
It was all Connie could do to gather her wits, from the shock of an animal confronting her so out of character, and her brush with her possible ultimate fate.
“If it wasn’t for her ... well, God was definitely there with us,” Connie said. “I’m a very strong Christian, so I definitely believe He gave me her that day to save me, because if it wasn’t for her … I don’t know, I hate to be dramatic and say I’d be dead, but I probably would have been messed up pretty bad.”
She immediately started running toward home and reached for her cellphone to call her husband, but the phone wasn’t clipped to her belt. She weighed the chances: Should she just run home and risk meeting the bear coming back? Should she go search for the phone and possibly lose time?
Connie dashed back to the spot where the bear had knocked her to the ground, found her phone and frantically, hysterically dialed Bob, telling him of the attack.
Bob Dilts jumped in the truck and sped out to meet her.
And still there was no sign of Boomer.
“I thought maybe it got her,” Connie said. “Because if it could reach her, it would have snapped her. She’s little, and this was a big bear.”
Bob and Boomer arrived about the same time, “with a little tuft of hair in her mouth.”
Boomer claimed victory.
“She has a little scrape on her nose, that’s it,” Connie said. “She’s unharmed other than that. We took her to the vet and made sure, she was up to date on her shots, but they gave her a rabies booster, just to make sure, as a precaution.”
The Diltses called the Game Commission, and a wildlife conservation officer visited their home to take Connie’s report.
“He was very concerned, extremely concerned. He spent a lot of time at our house and did the follow-up.”
She cleaned up, checked her own scratches, and decided to play it safe and headed to Indiana Regional Medical Center.
On the chance the wild bear had been rabid, Connie was put through a battery of more than a dozen painful injections to keep from getting the disease.
Forget the rumors circulating in the neighborhood that she had been maimed or disfigured.
“I’m perfectly fine. That’s a miracle. And Boomer’s OK.”
For days, Boomer remained on edge, and hadn’t yet settled back to her usual couch-potato lifestyle.
“She’s on high alert,” Connie said. “For a couple of days, she just laid on top of me. And I couldn’t take a step; she kept tripping on the back of my flip flops. When I take a step, she takes a step right on top of me.
“Now she’s getting a little better the past few days, but it has been intense for her.”
Connie said she continues to puzzle over why this bear was so aggressive.
“I didn’t see any cubs. I don’t think I’ll ever know why, whether it was sick. … But I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for my dog. I know that,” she said.
And even though it was the first time in more than a decade that she saw a bear on her morning walk route, she said she hasn’t been back out that way.
“I usually archery hunt, but I’m not going to do that this year.
“I didn’t expect this. I was completely shocked,” Connie said. “I am an animal lover and a nature lover, and it was never a fear for me. People need to know, to be aware bears are beautiful and great, but they are wild animals, they are unpredictable, and they do need to be respected.”
If she hadn’t convinced anyone before now, Boomer also has earned the utmost respect.
“She was an amazing dog before this,” Connie said. “She’s just really a good dog.”
PHOTO: CONNIE DILTS credits her Australian shepherd Boomer with possibly saving her life.