Man: Bear put my ankle in its mouth |

Man: Bear put my ankle in its mouth

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

Lazy Glen resident Peter Rizzuto was enjoying an afternoon nap outside on his deck Tuesday when a furry creature approached him. Groggy, Rizzuto petted the animal. Then the animal wrapped its mouth around Rizzuto’s ankle.

“I thought it was a German shepherd,” he said.

It wasn’t.

“I started petting it and saying ‘nice doggy,’” said Rizzuto, 77, thinking it was a visiting pet from a neighbor. “It then took my ankle but didn’t break the skin. Then I saw and looked down at his feet, and I see these big claws with really beautiful nails, and at this time I realize he’s a bear, being the hick I am, but not really. I’ve lived here 45 years.”

The bear released Rizzuto’s ankle from its clasp, Rizzuto said.

“I guess he didn’t like the taste,” he said.

The two strangers then decided their moment was drawing to a close.

“He sort of backed up and looked at me, and I looked at him,” Rizzuto said.

Rizzuto retired inside, and the bear went along its way, he said.

While Rizzuto’s wild story might be entertaining, it’s also cause for concern, said a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“Black bears typically shy away from humans,” spokesman Mike Porras said. “There is a comical aspect to it, but that incident could have gotten very ugly very quickly. When a bear is close to a human and has an ankle in its jaws, I would think that is something our officers would find concerning.”

Rizzuto said he did not report the incident to wildlife officials but that he will.

“I’m going to call them,” he said.

Black bears are considered predators but are chiefly herbivorous, but that doesn’t mean meat is off their menu, Porras said.

“If they find an injured animal at all, it’s possible they will eat it,” he said. “If they have a chance for an easy meal, they’ll take it.”

So far this year, bear encounters and sightings have been manageable for local officials.

Through May, Parks and Wildlife officials had killed one nuisance bear and relocated another one in Area 8, Porras said. Area 8 comprises all of Pitkin County, a large part of Eagle County, and Glenwood Springs.

From May through November in 2014, considered a busy year for bears, Parks and Wildlife euthanized 20 bruins due to the state’s two-strike policy, in which wildlife officers tag nuisance bears. Nuisance bears that are tagged twice risk being put to death. Other problem bears are relocated.

“From what I understand, their natural food has done very well this year with the amount of rain we’ve had,” Porras said. “There’s been no late killing frost that would damage their natural food.”

The Aspen Police Department has averaged about five bear calls a week over the past month, spokeswoman Blair Weyer said.

In 2014, the department recorded 766 bear reports, compared with 42 in 2013 and 1,040 in 2012.

The wide-ranging data relate to years when bears’ natural food sources — acorns, serviceberries, chokecherries and other edibles — are either abundant or scarce.

When the natural food supply is low, the bears prowl for food. Aspen often makes made a good target.

With the Food & Wine Classic coming to Aspen this weekend, Weyer cautioned residents and visitors to keep their trash tightly secured.

“It has been very quiet,” said Dan Glidden, the Police Department’s wildlife enforcement officer.

Glidden said there was a report of a bear Tuesday in the Burlingame neighborhood, but that’s been it for the week.

As for Rizzuto, he said he’s not anxious to snooze on his deck any time soon.

“I won’t be sleeping, but I’ll still be on my deck,” he said.