LENOX — He's been chairman of the state Fisheries & Wildlife Board for 35 years, an expert on "all creatures great and small." There's even a wildlife management area bearing his name in town.
But George L. "Gige" Darey, out for a walk in Kennedy Park, was startled on Tuesday when he got a call from a neighbor. "There's a bear in your house," he was informed.
"I ran as fast as an 88-year-old could," Darey said. "Knowing this neighbor, who wouldn't want to be identified, I knew it was serious."
Lenox police also had been notified by a neighbor and responded to his Hubbard Street property in a rural section of town.
"There definitely had been a bear in there," said Police Chief Stephen O'Brien on Wednesday morning.
Turns out, as Darey tells it, he has left his back door open in good weather for the three years he and his wife, Virginia, have lived there.
For a good reason, as he saw it: So that his small Brittany bird dog, Eclair, could get exercise when they weren't home, he had built a five-foot high fence to create his own half-acre dog park. "We leave the door open so the dog can go out whenever she wants," Darey said.
Eclair, a sweet dog, turned a bit ferocious "defending the house, and attracted the neighbor by barking furiously," Darey said. "We never worried about people coming in the house."
Despite his renown as a wildlife expert, Darey conceded that a close encounter of the bruin kind at home had never been on his personal radar.
"We haven't had this problem before," he admitted somewhat sheepishly. "But there's a problem in the neighborhood because a guy down the street is boasting that he's hand-feeding a bear."
In addition, he pointed out, people aren't securing their garbage or putting it out the night before collection day. Then, there are the birdwatchers who keep their feeders filled, even in warm weather.
Eclair is no worse for wear physically, but "she's a mental case," Darey said. "We'll have to get a dog psychiatrist for her," he joked.
As for the house, the uninvited guest "trashed things up, threw garbage all over the floor." Careful not to overstay his non-welcome, the bruin had fled before Darey returned from Kennedy Park.
"I love wildlife — game, rabbits, deer, whatever. But I'm not a fan of bear," he said. "They eat garbage and other animals."
Bear sightings have been unusually frequent in Berkshire County this summer, even in Pittsfield, for reasons that aren't clear — perhaps a berry food shortage caused by the near-drought, maybe a result of the mild winter that cut short the semi-hibernation season.
"At Fisheries and Wildlife, we say, 'A fed bear is a dead bear because it will become a nuisance and have to be destroyed,'" he said. He noted that bear hunting season has been shortened to coincide with the deer season "because of the animal rights people."
"This has become a serious problem and we've done everything we could, but we have no more tools to control the bear problem," he said.
Darey recounted a recent experience in Kennedy Park.
"I heard two dogs barking on a back trail, one dog was off-leash and had cornered a bear against a tree."
Breaking into another sprint, he managed to collar the dog and prevent what could have been a bad ending.
Somewhat sadly, the wildlife guru admitted that there's a new policy at home.
"We're not going to leave the door open anymore to let the dog run in the backyard," he said.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.