Busting a marijuana grow-op is fairly routine for police in B.C.'s West Kootenay region. But when RCMP raided a grow-op near the tiny town of Christina Lake recently, they found what they say was an unusual security contingent - a troop of black bears.
Officers were "a little shocked" to discover 10 bears prowling the property like live "traps" waiting to greet intruders, said RCMP spokesman Corporal Dan Moskaluk.
Officers went about their work "cautiously," said Corp. Moskaluk, but quickly realized the bears were quite mellow.
The docile bears "were essentially large dogs," he said. "It was evident that the occupants were feeding the bears dog food."
There was no evidence the bears were also being fed marijuana.
During their July 30 raid, police also discovered the bears were not the only wildlife being kept by the occupants
"Inside the residence there was a large pig roaming around and there was a large raccoon sleeping on the bed," Corp. Moskaluk said. "Who knows what the raccoon was up to because he was just vegging in the house ... the pig was strolling around the household. He seemed to be a bit more nervous than the raccoon about the police officers' presence."
Police seized between 1,100 and 1,200 marijuana plants and arrested the owners of the property, a man and a woman who Corp. Moskaluk described as being in their late 40s. RCMP have recommended they be charged with cultivating and possessing marijuana.
Corp. Moskaluk said it's not unusual for people running grow-ops to use animals for security, but they almost always use dogs.
"It can be very dangerous," he said.
And while police suspect the bears were being used to guard the grow-op near Christina Lake, that hasn't been confirmed.
"We haven't got comment from the owner in regard to the bears at this time ... is this a matter where they enjoyed the bears' company and saw nothing wrong in feeding them or were they intentionally doing this in order to protect their grows," Corp. Moskaluk said.
Grace McGregor, the director who represents Christina Lake on the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary board, said she has known the woman who lives on the property for 35 years and that she doubts the bears were being used as a security detail.
"She is a close-to-nature kind of person. She makes friends of all animals and has been feeding the bears for a number of years from what I understand ... so I don't think that the grow-op and the bears are really related," she said. "This thing has gotten blown out of proportion. We all know every time you turn around there's another grow-op busted somewhere.
"The unfortunate part of this whole story is probably the bears are the ones who are going to end up paying here," Ms. McGregor said.
Bears that get used to being fed by humans tend to become aggressive once the feeding stops and often have to be put down by conservation officers.
Christina Lake has a population of about 1,400 people and is a 540-kilometre drive east of Vancouver.