▶ Watch Video: Plan to put down 500-pound bear behind break-ins sparks backlash

Police in South Lake Tahoe say they have been “inundated” with phone calls about “Hank the Tank” — a 500-pound black bear that has broken into dozens of homes in the area. So on Wednesday, the police department had a message for concerned callers: “Please stop calling SLTPD to give your opinions about Hank.”

In a Facebook post titled “Hank The Tank: PSA,” the police department implored people to stop contacting them about the bear.

“Our dispatchers are being inundated with these calls about Hank,” police said. “It’s affecting their ability to give their full attention to emergency calls. “

The bear is well-known in the area and is now wanted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. A spokesperson said last week the bear had damaged dozens of homes and was responsible for more than 150 calls.

Locals are contemplating whether to have the bear killed, which some believe may be the only option at this point. But on Wednesday, police stressed that “no one wants to see him euthanized.”

“Our local wildlife agencies are working together to find the best option for Hank,” they wrote. “They are searching for an option that will be good for Hank’s mental/physical health, and the safety of our local residents.”

South Lake Tahoe Police said they “never expected” such widespread reaction to Hank, which has included online petitions to save the bear and even an op-ed in Tuesday’s Washington Post.  

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has been trying to track Hank for more than six months.

“These are neighborhoods, there’s a lot of people around, traffic and cars. So, we have to do this in a way that is safe for both the public and the bear itself,” said spokesperson Peter Tira. “This is a severely food habituated bear. What that means is this is a bear that has lost all fear of people and it sees people and homes as a source of food.”

The most recent break-in took place on Catalina Drive Friday morning. The bear had broken a small window and squeezed into the home, where the homeowners had no idea how to get him out.

Officers responded and banged on the outside of the house until Hank came out the back door. They then stayed in the area to ensure he continued on his way without damaging or entering other homes.

The Bear League said it’s still waiting to hear back from Fish and Wildlife about a possible sanctuary move. Meanwhile, a meeting on the issue is set for Wednesday night in Tahoe Keys.