Encountering a bear was just the first battle

On May 12, a bear came onto the back porch of Dustan and Tiffany Golladay’s house. The couple was sleeping and was awakened by their dog, Zoe.

“Her bark wasn’t her normal bark,” Tiffany said.

Dustan came down the stairs of his two-story house on the back door of Shenandoah National Park with a gun in his hand. He started yelling at the bear to leave, flipping the light on and off.

The Golladays have had a lot of bear problems; Dustan even said he might have seen this bear before. Normally, when he threatens an animal, it leaves.

But in May, according to Jaime Sajecki, the black bear project leader at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, bears are still recovering from hibernation, looking for whatever food they can find.

“They can be in pretty rough shape,” Sajecki said.

Smelling cat food that was inside the Golladays’ porch, the bear wouldn’t leave.

“It just looked at me,” Dustan said. “So I swung the door open and I yelled at it, and it came after me, like it came towards me.”

So, Dustan said, he shot his gun and killed the bear. That part, though, was only the beginning.

What followed, Dustan said, was a stream of harassment, mostly coming from social media. There was even one death threat, he said.

“I even had a man post on Facebook, he said, ‘Save a bear, kill a retard,'” Dustan said. “And he was talking about me.”

After Dustan shot the bear, Tiffany called 911 and informed the police. An officer for the Warren County Sheriff’s Office showed up and began taking pictures, making sure that Dustan had, in fact, acted out of self-defense and did not shoot the bear illegally.

“They went outside, they checked the doors,” Dustan said. “And the one cop, he noticed the bullet hole in the floor. They confirmed that it was definitely shot inside. It wasn’t shot outside, and then we drug it in.”

The Sheriff’s Office closed its investigation, deciding that Dustan had acted within the law.

“The case was closed and all of that,” Tiffany said. “That we did no wrongdoings.”

Later, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries got in communication with the Sheriff’s Office.

“[The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries] even told us that we did the right thing,” Tiffany said.

The Sheriff’s Office has not responded to a request for comment. But Jaime Sajecki, the black bear project leader of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, confirmed that an officer decided not to charge Dustan.

Those facts, though, didn’t matter to onlookers on social media, Dustan and Tiffany said. On social media, people claimed Dustan did not shoot the bear inside the house and even claimed that they had not called 911, Tiffany said.

Others went after Dustan and even his children.

“I’ve even got one girl that’s been attacking my military career,” Dustan said. “Saying that I’m not a real veteran and all of this other stuff.”

The harassment, they said, has had a major impact on their life. Dustan said that he has not had a good night’s sleep since the incident last week. And it’s come, he said, because of a broader problem: People in towns and cities don’t understand what it’s like to live so close to the bear population.

“It’s like everybody from the Strasburg area has been harassing us and everybody from this side that knows the bear problems have all been on our side and defending us,” Dustan said.

The experience, Dustan said, has made him fearful when driving by.

“We can’t even walk out in our yards without somebody driving by and saying something or staring,” Dustan said.

Contact staff writer Max Lee at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or mlee@nvdaily.com