When we first heard reports that a bear was prowling around residential areas in Fairfax County on Sunday, we didn't take them too seriously.

A lot of people who celebrate too strenuously on Saturday night see strange animals on Sunday.

Even when it turned out that there really was a 7-foot bear running loose in Fairfax County, and the police finally captured it, my colleagues thought it was a funny story. "What are they going to do with the bear?" I asked in all innocence. "They'll read him his rights and release him on his own recognizance," was the immediate response. "It's his first offense."

Another reporter commented, "I'll bet many a man will sigh with relief when he finds out there really was a bear out there and it wasn't just something he drank."

It was all very funny, I suppose, but I keep thinking some unfunny thoughts.

If one bear was running loose, is it not reasonable to assume that there were others nearby? At least a Papa Bear and/or a Mama Bear, to say nothing of sisters, brothers or cousins?

It we caught one, how many have we not caught? What in the world are black bears doing in an urban neighborhood, anyhow? What is a person supposed to do if he encounters a bear? For that matter, what would the bear do if he suddenly encountered a human being? Some bears have terrible dispositions, and, like assisant city editors, grow meaner as they grow older.

I get frightened out of year's growth when I come home from work at 5 a.m. and see a raccoon pop up out of my garbage can. Can't you just picture me tossing a casual "Howdy, neighbor" to a 7-foot black bear?