SCHENECTADY — At first, Terry Tooley thought the dark creature standing in the crosswalk amid the red glow of a stoplight was a dog. Perhaps a large one like a Saint Bernard.
But he quickly realized he was looking at a bear.
As he stepped on the accelerator and cruised up Nott Street on his way to drop off a passenger from Rivers Casino & Resort around 1:30 Tuesday morning, the creature ran alongside his vehicle.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Tooley said.
Video Tooley posted to Facebook shows the bear galloping along the sidewalk near Union College, stopping momentarily after he called out, “What’s up teddy bear?”
The bear then crossed the street and disappeared into the night toward Foster Avenue.
Tooley, fearing for the safety of passersby and college students, called 911.
“My biggest concern was spreading the word and making sure everyone was safe,” Tooley said.
Then he posted the video to Facebook, where the 17-second-clip quickly gathered momentum, garnering over 800 shares by Tuesday afternoon.
“Driving late at night for Uber & Lyft, I’ve had many different animals cross the road, but never a bear, much less in Schenectady,” Tooley wrote on Facebook.
Tooley, of Brunswick, said the bear appeared to head toward the bike path.
He hopes authorities will safely catch the animal and return it to the wilderness, preferably the Adirondacks.
“It’s a bear, you don’t know where it could be — it could be in someone’s shed, in Scotia or one of those abandoned houses in Schenectady that we seem to have so many of, unfortunately,” Tooley said of the bear’s current whereabouts.
A Schenectady Police Department spokesman said they alerted state Department of Environmental Conservation to the sighting.
Later Tuesday morning, police were seen trying to find the bear with their spotlights, including one effort around 3:30 a.m. in the area of Eastern Avenue near the old Fireside Inn, across from Price Chopper, to apparently no avail.
Union College notified students of the sighting in an email blast.
“Campus Safety and Schenectady Police investigated and were unable to locate the animal and no further sighting has been reported,” said the notification.
College officials asked students not to approach the animal if sighted and instead call Campus Safety, which will clear the area and call for assistance from animal control and Schenectady police.
OUT OF HIBERNATION
Steve Hall, co-founder of Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, said spring is when bears emerge from hibernation and start looking for new food sources.
“They’ve developed a big hunger and want to go around and start eating,” Hall said.
But natural foods are scarce in the spring, leading bears to seek out human food sources.
The bear was likely familiar with people, explaining why he was following his nose in an urban environment, Hall said.
It’s not unusual to see a bear occasionally in cities in the spring, a DEC official said. Bears are opportunistic feeders and will remember where they find easy food and return to that location frequently.
George Robinson, professor of biological sciences at the University at Albany, said it was unlikely the bear came from the Adirondacks, but rather the Catskills, where bears are more accustomed to people than their northern counterparts.
He said people shouldn’t be afraid, but should contact DEC in the event of a sighting.
“They’re probably just lost and disoriented and should not be treated as a dangerous threat,” Robinson said.
Hall said Hollywood gives bears a bad rap. Grizzlies can be dangerous, but black bears are rarely so.
“They just want to get away from us,” Hall said. “The bear is frightened, but you don’t want to get defensive.”
The leading cause of bear complaints in New York is bears getting into residential garbage, bird feeders and other sources of food, according to DEC.
The Capital Region is no stranger to the occasional urban bear visit.
A bear got stuck in a tree in 2014 in Rotterdam, but was ultimately killed by state environmental conservation officers after the agency said the bruin exhibited aggressive behavior.
In another incident, a bear wandered into Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood in 2012 and stayed in a tree for hours. The animal, which attracted dozens of onlookers, was transquilized and returned to the wild in Delaware County.