Family greeted by growling houseguest

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2004

DECATUR TOWNSHIP - He was hardly your typical visitor, but he quickly became a celebrity as people snapped his photograph and gasped at his presence.

Last Saturday night, Dave Lewis, of Decatur Township, hosted a party for one on his back deck for a guest he had not planned to entertain.

"I was home alone. My wife had gone to a band competition and I was watching football when I heard a noise on the back deck, like something going through the trash," Lewis said. "So I got my flashlight and peeped through the kitchen window and there it was."

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There it was indeed: a 200-250-pound black bear, sifting through the trash bags Lewis had set outside. "I called 911 and the sheriff's office and then I called a couple of buddies and they came over and we watched him around the edge of the house," Lewis said.

The Lewis residence became an entertainment spot for an hour or so while friends and neighbors sneaked up to take pictures and record the bear's activities with camcorders from a distance.

"I never thought I'd see one in Decatur," Lewis said. "I've heard older

people talk about seeing bears in Lawrence County but I didn't think I would ever see one." And certainly not on his back deck.

There have been bear sightings lately throughout the county.

Lawrence County Wildlife Officer Brian James said while the bear population is growing in the state,

it is likely all the sightings involve the same bear. "He's been running all over Lawrence County this summer," James said. "He's been in Pine Grove, Oak Hill, Arabia. He's got a pretty good sized area to run around in and for the most part he's behaving himself."

James said Lawrence County's most elusive citizen is probably a West Virginia transplant who heeded the call to move westward in search of less crowded pastures. "Basically the West Virginia bear population has exploded and he came across the river- they're good swimmers. I figure he's about three months old and he's looking for an area where he's not going to encounter another male bear."

He did not encounter any other male bears that night, but he did encounter a lot of local curiosity. Did the visitor mind all the attention he was getting? You might say those spectators were barely noticed. "He didn't seem to care that we were there," Lewis said. "He would walk to the edge of the deck and look at us and then go and lay down. … he didn't act the slightest bit aggressive. He acted like a big pet but he's still a wild animal and you can't trust him."

Lewis said the bear meandered off after he slammed the kitchen door a couple of times to get him to go away.

While the excitement of seeing a real live black bear is

understandable, James recommends that people use caution if they encounter the bear. Cute and cuddly-looking, he is still a wild animal. "He's not a pet," James said. "He's a wild animal and if go trying to make a pet out of a wild animal, someone is going to get hurt."

Bears, James said, are not generally aggressive unless they are cornered or unless it is a mother bear protecting her cubs or unless people try to feed it. James said game wardens are not trying to catch the bear and won't unless he becomes aggressive or becomes a nuisance.

As for Lewis, he was happy to play host just that one time, but he worries about having a bear in the neighborhood. He and his wife, Angie have a 4-year-old son, Cody, and there are other children around, too.

"I wouldn't mind seeing him again," James said. "But I don't want it to become a habit."