Photo Gallery | Bear captured near Pittsfield High School
PITTSFIELD — A young bear scurried up a tree behind Pittsfield High School on Thursday afternoon, creating a stir just as the students were being released for the day.
The bear, which hung onto its perch for nearly an hour despite being tranquilized, drew a crowd of about 50 people who oohed and aahed with each sway of the slumbering cub as responders waited below.
"I think he should be our new school mascot," a high school student shouted in the crowd, which was composed of high school teachers and administrators, students, neighborhood residents and parents.
Netting that was set up beneath the tree safely caught the animal when it fell around 4:15 p.m. after being hit with a second tranquilizer, which was administered by a Massachusetts Environmental Police officer.
Animal control workers on the scene said they had been "chasing" the cub around the city for much of the day.
They took the situation seriously because, as teacher Brian Buckley put it, "They don't know where mama is."
School Resource Officer Jessica Godfroy said the bear climbed into the tree just as school was getting out.
"He showed up at 2:20 just as soon as we let 850 kids out the front door, wouldn't you know it," she said.
An hour later, the netting was in place — rigged to a truck on one side and the porch of the nearby home on the other — and Godfroy spoke with Animal Control Officer Joseph Chague.
"Which way do you think he's going to fall?" she said.
"We've got a 50-50 chance in that," Chague said. "If I had to guess, when they hit him with the dart, he's going to go as high as he can and hang on for dear life. He'll start licking a lot and then [fall]."
At one point, responders started calling for a ladder, but were informed the school had none tall enough to reach the cub. Principal Matthew Bishop then flagged down a passing Time Warner Cable truck topped with an extension ladder.
The employee pulled over into the parking area near 33-35 Appleton Ave. — the tree the bear had climbed was on the property of this home — and doffed his hat to the crowd, put on a helmet and carried over the ladder.
"Just wait until they send you up it," someone said, provoking laughter.
Bears have been particularly active in the area in recent days. Chague said animal control has been dealing with bears "pretty much every weekend," including one recently at Dalton Avenue and Tyler Street.
"Usually they're a lot bigger," he said.
Onlooker Kevin Unterberger had a theory regarding the increase in activity.
"The berries aren't out yet and they're looking for food," he said. "We had such an off winter that a lot of them really didn't stay in hibernation."
He added, "One walked right through the front door of my neighbor's house [at the corner of Walnut and Onota streets] and ate muffins right off the kitchen table," he said. "By the time everybody got home he had walked out and left. I told her next time you should put a pot of coffee on and maybe he'll stay longer."
After nearly an hour, an animal control worker had to climb up the Time Warner ladder and hit the cub with a second tranquilizer.
The bear gently tumbled, down a few branches first, and then into the nets, provoking applause from the crowd.
Workers quickly blindfolded the animal an put it on a bed of ice. Plans were to release it back into the wild in a wooded area.
"I was so afraid the little guy was going to get hurt," Unterberger said. "There's a story with a nice ending."
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.