Dave Zbaracki of Duluth did a double take when he saw a black bear lounging in his children’s kiddie pool on the backyard deck.
It would have been easy to mistake the bear for his black Newfoundland dog, but Gipper was inside the house, whining and yelping at the backyard intruder.
The bear was totally unfazed, his burly body filling up the plastic pool, his chin resting over its edge. The day was hot and the pool water was a good place to plop down.
“It was like he was thinking: ‘I’m a bear. What are you going to do?’ ” Zbaracki said.
The bear would move on when he was good and ready, he surmised.
“It’s Duluth. There are woods everywhere,” said Zbaracki, who grew up there and moved back with his wife and two young children earlier this month. “It’s not uncommon for Duluthians to have encounters with wildlife. You see deer everywhere in our backyards. Bears aren’t as common, but they are around.”
It’s likely the backyard bear was the same one Zbaracki saw while walking his dog on Sunday along Superior Street, a few blocks from his Congdon Park neighborhood home. And it was probably the same bear he saw snacking on a neighbor’s garbage after knocking the can over on Monday.
A bear in a kiddie pool may look cute, but Zbaracki warned that it’s not normal. The bear likely is around because people left their garbage outside after last week’s violent storm knocked out power, disabling electric garage doors, he said. He and his neighbors finally had their power restored on Monday, five days after losing it.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received dozens of calls this spring about bears roaming in and near Duluth, said Chris Balzer, the agency’s wildlife manager based in Cloquet.
“It’s a unique city because of the terrain and the rivers that come through it. There are large patches of green space that give bears some refuge,” he said. When the bears come out of hibernation, they forage into the neighborhoods looking for food, Balzer said.
That’s when wildlife officials tell residents to take down their bird feeders and put their garbage in bear-proof canisters or lock it away in a shed or garage. “If there’s no food there for the bears, they may pass through from time to time but there’s no reason for them to stay,” Balzer said.
Bears normally are shy and usually flee when encountered, according to the DNR. “Never approach or try to pet a bear. Injury to people is rare, but bears are potentially dangerous because of their size, strength and speed,” the DNR stated in an earlier release.
That looks to be one very large bear, said Balzer after looking at a photo of the Zbaracki’s backyard bear. “It must be hot like the rest of us,” he said. “Kind of comical, but it might make some people uncomfortable.”
Looking at the bear in the kiddie pool, Zbaracki and his wife laughed. “I hate to humanize the bear, but it kind of looked like: ‘Hey, I just ate lunch and now it’s time to cool off,’ ” the father of two said. “It’s just another Monday in Duluth.”