A beautiful summer’s day in the Sequoia Mountains, California, in July 2008, then 58-year-old Allena Hansen was working on her isolated mountain property when she spotted a black bear.
‘It was about 10 feet away from me, and staring straight at me, like it had been waiting for me…I knew exactly what was going to happen and it did. And the thing was on me within a half a second of making eye contact,’ Allena told gripping podcast How I Survived.
Terrifyingly, Allena came to with the bear chewing on her face.
'I just remember coming to in the fetal position, in the wet sand, with this thing that had grabbed me by the ears, and bit into my face, and was sitting on me trying to chew my head off.
‘The horror of the situation was just overwhelming, and it hurt, obviously, like hell. I didn't really have a plan of attack. I was just numb…’
But when the predator bit into her eye and began to spit out her teeth, Allena decided to fight back.
'Do you know who I am, bear? Do you have any clue who you are eating?' Allena thought.
Giving the bear a taste of its own medicine, Allena jammed her thumb into its eye, and called for her dogs, Deke the Mastiff and RK the Wolfhound, who were sleeping nearby.
Knowing that her faithful pups would come to her rescue, Allena blacked out.
‘I woke up, and I heard this screaming, and growling, and grunting, and fighting. I had my Irish Wolfhound, who was huge, and my English Mastiff, who's also huge, and the bear were all on top of me, and there is blood, and fur, and screaming, and teeth, and claws, and me underneath all of this bleeding out,’ Allena told How I Survived.
Her ‘noble’ dogs had sacrificed themselves for her. ‘The least you can do is get up, and try to get out of there,’ Allena said.
Despite losing her contact lenses in the attack, Allena managed to escape and find her way back to her car. Driving herself to the local fire station, she was then airlifted to hospital.
'As they were loading me into the helicopter, I asked the fireman if he could please just tell Alec, my kid, that he was loved, and thank him for being such a good friend, and companion over the years, and even as I said I was hating myself for being so inarticulate, and having such a cliché as my last message to him,' Allena said.
The bear had partially eaten the orbit of Allena’s eye, destroyed the bridge of her nose, much of her upper gums and palate, torn off her ears and lips and broken her jaw. She’d also lost 14 teeth and a segment of her left cheekbone.
‘There's pictures all over the internet of what I looked like. You can't even tell that's a human being. It looks like a lump of hamburger, pretty much,’ Allena said.
Against all odds, surgeons managed to put Allena back together. ‘I looked like nothing so much as this exquisitely executed patchwork quilt with thousands of little tiny stitches all over my face,’ she told How I Survived.
‘Even just a year or two after the attack, I could pass in public, and nobody would really notice unless I drew attention to it, or mentioned it,’ Allena said.
Incredibly, her dogs, RK and Deke, survived the attack. Sadly, they’re no longer with Allena, though.
‘The wolfhound, mastiffs are giant breeds, and they don't live very long, so they got another four or five good years and boy did those guys get a lot of roasts, and steak,’ she laughed.
Now nearly 70, Allena has a message for others who find themselves in a traumatic situation.
‘You'd be amazed what you can do if you have to, but you have to do something. The key to surviving is it doesn't matter what you do, just start the ball rolling. Do something, and then improvise as you go along. You never know where it's going to end up but it's better than lying there, and letting something eat your head off!’