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“The Stories of Animal Control Officers Joe Tuesday and Bill Cannon”
(With a nod to Jack Webb’s ‘Dragnet’ TV series…)
It had been a busy morning – returning two zoo escapees caught wandering the city. The zoo had left its gates open – again. As we returned to the office a call came in – a code 486, “Bear at the Bar”; in this case, the legal bar. Proceedings at the City Courthouse were halted due to an adult black bear on the premises.
I’m Sergeant Joe Tuesday, Senior Animal Control Officer. Bill Cannon is my partner. This is one of our stories.
The call had been shorter than a lawyer’s briefs. The court bailiff had an adult male black bear in the courtroom that had refused his request for peaceful removal. So we grabbed the truck with the bear cage in back (In my experience it was a terrible idea to put a wild bear in the back of the squad car – they don’t like seatbelts.) and proceeded to the courthouse with all due haste.
“Joe, do you think it’s Bruce Bronsky’s pet bear Blake again?”
“Maybe. Wild bears are rare in town.”
The Honorable Ralph Wehremeye in full judge regalia greeted us at the curb.
“Joe! That bear has completely disrupted my courtroom!”
“That’s unbear… er, unfortunate, your Honor.” He looked at me funny but I continued.
“Would this visiting ‘ursus americanus’ be Bruce Bronsky’s bear Blake?”
“Why yes it is Joe. How did you know?”
“Lucky guess. May I ask why Mr. Bronsky brought the bear to court?”
“Yes, that’s pertinent. The bear was his alibi for an incident with his neighbor.”
“Yes. His attorney maintains that Blake would vouch that Bruce was actually home in bed at the time when someone sprayed an uncomplimentary phrase on his neighbor, Mr. Ferdly’s fence.”
“The bear could vouch for him…?”
“Yes. Did you know that Bruce raised Blake since he was a baby and taught him sign language?”
“Wait, Bruce was a baby when he started raising the bear?”
“No! The bear was the baby. Bruce says he taught Blake sign language.”
“The Standard – American Sign Language (ASL)?”
“Um, no unfortunately. Bruce taught him French Sign Language (LSF) since Blake was originally from Quebec. It’s a little tricky since bears don’t have fingers. But we intended to ask the bear to confirm the alibi and Bruce would translate his answer for us.”
I looked around for a camera. Nope – didn’t see one. The judge was serious. I sighed and motioned the judge to continue.
“So, what happened then? Where is Bruce and why isn’t Blake – his pet bear – with him?”
“Well, shortly after Blake was sworn in to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth…etc.’, Blake growled and made a hand gesture. When we asked Bruce to translate he said Blake thought the proceedings were a farce, a charade and a canard, not to mention an outrageous waste of time and the taxpayer’s money! I thought that was a lot to say with a single hand gesture and I told Bruce that his key witness was skirting dangerously close to a contempt of court citation and instructed him to so advise the witness.”
I hoped my face didn’t show my growing skepticism. He continued.
“Bruce appeared to instruct the bear as directed but the bear simply made a rude noise, climbed onto the Defense table and attacked the counsel’s lunch bag! Apparently it was chicken salad with a touch of curry. And peas! Who puts peas in chicken salad? I issued a stern warning, saying that I could hold both of them in contempt unless they showed proper deference to and decorum in, the Court!
Blake completely ignored me but Bruce apologized and said he understood and was frankly disappointed with Blake’s attitude. He attributed it to the approaching winter hibernation and to Blake having stayed up late the previous night to watch David Letterman. In fact, it was Blake’s staying up late that allowed him to provide the alibi! I was going to ask the bear to tell me who the guests were. That would confirm that he wasn’t lying about being awake!”
I hated my inability to simply nod without asking further questions and blurted out “so, where is Bruce now, your Honor?”
“Well, I excused him because he is a fine gentleman and after all, he has a business to run. He owns the Bentwell Brewery over on Bowers Boulevard. Behind the bank. I assured him we’d sort things out so he could get ready for the lunch crowd. He promised me my usual table.”
I was beginning to understand. “So Bruce left Blake in custody of the Court?”
“Yes. And that’s where you come in. The bailiff hasn’t been able to restrain Blake. I realized we needed the professionals for this job.”
With that, the Honorable Judge Wehremeye scurried off to his reserved seat at the Bentwell Brewery.
It was quite a story and frankly Blake the bear’s reaction was predictable and justified. Bill and I grabbed the equipment needed to convince Blake to cease his courtroom occupation.
“Joe, do we need the tranquilizer gun?”
“Not so fast my trigger-happy hombre. Probably not. He’s a pet. Bring it but be – careful! The last time you tried to use it, you accidentally bagged a nearby unsuspecting member of the town constabulary.”
“The traffic guy. Yeah –He had to be a good 100 yards away! We’re just lucky he was bent over tying his shoe and facing away when it landed. He was pretty peeved with us.”
“With you mostly. And I particularly don’t want to ‘accidentally’ bag any lawyers today. They’re not in season and are particularly dangerous in their natural habitat – the courtroom.” Bill nodded. “Anyway, they don’t appear to be in attendance. Let’s go restore order in the court.” Bill kept the gun pointed at the ground as we poked our heads around the courtroom door and peered in.
As described, Blake – a full-sized adult ursus – was contentedly chomping on the contents of the bag lunches left behind when the Prosecution and Defense counsels had abandoned their tables at the front.
“Should I trank him now!” Bill asked hopefully. I shook my head.
“He’s too big and so far remains calm. Tranking is our last resort. I don’t want to drag a sleeping black bear from the courtroom by hand. He must be over 600 pounds!”
“Bigger than my mother-in-law!”
I looked at him and sighed. “Bill, you’re not married…and leave the jokes to me.”
I knew this bear. He liked cookies, bratwurst, and beer. In that order.
“Do you have the picnic basket?” Bill handed me our standard picnic basket, carried for just these circumstances.
I inventoried the contents. Yep – all set. It had the four fresh chocolate chip cookies and – wait a minute. There were only three. Bill shrugged and smiled guiltily. OK, then, three cookies, a bratwurst, and three cans of a popular local beer – a Summit Elderflower IPA. Bears are omnivores and like Bill, will eat anything. If the bear loved the beer, we would be friends forever. I turned to Bill.
“I’m going to casually stroll up to the table and see if I can lure Blake with the basket. Cover me with the tranquilizer.” Bill nodded and slowly prepped the gun while I approached Blake.
“Hello Blake!” I said in my friendliest manner. “Look what I have!”
Blake stopped his rummaging through the lunch bag as I approached. When I was within arm reach I opened the basket and offered him a cookie. He snatched it, sniffed it and promptly snarfed it down. I reached for another and started walking away. Blake followed.
As we hit the courtroom door, I popped a beer and handed it to him. “It’s OK Bill.” I said over my shoulder. “He’s over 21 – in bear years.”
Blake the bear quickly downed the first Summit Elderflower and put his arm around my shoulders, looking hopefully into the basket. I handed him the second. By the time he’d finished the last one we were both sitting inside the cage. I handed him the remaining item in the basket – the bratwurst. Blake liked it. As I eased myself from the cage Blake curled up in the corner and began snoring contentedly.
“And that’s how you handle a pet bear, Bill. I’ll tell the judge he can resume operations. Keep an eye on our friend.”
I found His Honor at the Brewery. Our conversation was brief. “Your court room’s clear.” He thanked me between bites of a nice looking bratwurst on a brioche bun.
When I returned to the truck I found Blake sleeping while Bill sang a familiar tune in a loud voice. It was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody:
“Scaramouch, Scaramouch; can you do the fandango!
Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening, me!
Galileo, Galileo…Galileo Figaro – magnifico!”
We sang in “a capella” harmony through to end, finishing with a meloncholy
…Nothing really matters, to me, any way the wind blows….
Blake snored his approval.
We drove to the brewery where we found Mr. Bronsky. When we opened the cage, Blake ambled out, belched loudly and hugged Bruce before strolling back into the kitchen.
“Whoa – Did you give Blake a beer?”
“Three. It helped us get him home.”
“Right. I guess it would. How did you know it would work?”
“That’s Animal Control Tradecraft knowledge. And experience. Bears love beer. Fortunately they tend to be sleepy and gregarious inebriates rather than angry ones.” Bruce nodded thoughtfully.
“Mr. Bronsky, is it true that Blake knows sign language?”
Bruce grinned. “Nah. It was just too funny to resist – the idea of him in a courtroom and pretending to talk to him in a language only I could speak and understand? And they fell for it!”
“Where did you get the bear?”
“When I was younger and before I bought the brewery, I had a circus act – ‘Bruce Bronsky and the Bear’. We traveled all over the country. We would wrestle and he’d stand up and growl. Everyone would scream. Then I’d slip him a treat and he’d pretend to be knocked out. The kids loved it. He’s actually gentle as a lamb. Just looks fierce.”
“Why didn’t you bring Blake with you when you left?”
“I know the bailiff. He was in on the joke. Didn’t he tell you?”
“No. He forgot to mention that.”
“Dang. Well, sorry about that.” He shrugged. “Oh well; no harm – no foul. Thanks for taking good care of him. Lunch is on the house!”
Just then my cell phone rang. It was a moose call – that is, a call about a moose. A code 780. The moose had meandered into town from the marsh and was now moodily munching marigolds at Mrs. Meredith Malloy’s. This was the third call this week from her. I told Bill.
“What is it about those marigolds?” he wondered.
“According to Manfred McFarkmoon’s Moose manual, they find marigolds marvelous.”
“You just made that up.”
“Yep. Good catch.” He looked at the siren button and I nodded.
As we sped off, I thought to myself that some days are just better than others and this was one of them.Published in