Bratt residents puzzled by sightings of a black animal

Published 1:02 am Wednesday, April 19, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
The small rural community of Bratt, Fla., located eight miles south of Atmore has seen many things over the years, but few have drawn as much attention as the recent repeated sightings of what is believed to be a black bear.
For more than two weeks, residents of the farm community have been swapping stories at the local country store and beauty salons of their experience with the animal.
Larry Ashcraft, who lives on Highway 4 in Bratt, has seen the animal on several occasions in his own backyard.
"I have seen him several times," Ashcraft said. "He has made no attempt to approach me. I have even heard him in the woods in the late evening making a grunting sound. I've seen him digging through my garbage too. Some people are saying this is a dog. If it is a dog, then it is three quarters bear if you ask me. It walks and runs like a bear."
The most recent sighting of the animal for Ashcraft was on Easter Sunday as he and his family were hunting for Easter eggs.
"It came into the yard and got a drink of water from the bird bath," Ashcraft said. "Then it just sat there for about five minutes until our three year old grandson scared it off screaming."
Ashcraft is more concerned about the tracks he found in his yard two weeks ago that indicate a larger animal has been around.
"The tracks I found alarmed me," Ashcraft said. "I had not even seen the smaller animal at that time. I have been a hunter for 60 years and these were not the tracks of the animal I have seen in my yard. The tracks I saw are bear tracks and I personally do not want to see the creature that left them."
The animal has been spotted on Highway 4, Oak Shade Road, and Hanks Road and in a field off of Old Bratt Road.
Another Bratt resident, Larry Wayne Free, who lives near Ashcraft on the corner of Roley Road and Highway 4, has seen the animal numerous times also.
"I saw it for the first time about two weeks ago," Free said. "I was at home and noticed a lot of cars stopping, a school bus and two police cars. I went outside to see what was going on and there it was standing about 10 to 15 feet away from me. It definitely looked like a black bear to me. I have seen it several times since then in our yard and nearby field. It was in our yard just a few minutes ago actually. I find it hard to believe that it is a dog, because what I have seen of it looks like a bear, runs like a bear and acts like a bear."
Some residents of the rural community who once thought it was a bear as well now believe that the animal is indeed a dog.
Heath Bryan who lives in the same vicinity as spotted the animal several times as well. He too thought at first sight that it was a bear, but has since seen the animal at a closer range that leads him to believe that it is a dog. According to Bryan, the animal has a long tail like a dog and a body of a dog. He said the face however does resemble a bear.
The question remains, dog or bear? No absolute determinations have been made as of yet about the animal and if there is any reason for alarm.
The Florida Freshwater Fish and Wildlife Commission warn people to not feed black bears even if they appear to be gentle. According to the commission website, bears lose their natural fear of people and become habituated and may become more dangerous.
It is illegal to intentionally feed bears in the state of Florida. Bears are attracted to pet food left on a porch or in a yard and are especially interested in garbage. The commission suggests that garbage not be put out until the day of pick up.

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