Suspected killer caught
• Possibly sick bobcat believed to have killed a number of pets
By Parish Howard
At first Matt Howard didn't know what to think when he saw the puddle of blood, tufts of hair and drag marks on the front porch of his Carlyle Court home in Wrens.
"It was late when I saw it," he said. "At first I just wondered what that was all over my porch. Then I saw it was blood and the gray hair and knew something had gotten my daughter's cat. You could tell something had mauled it here and dragged it over there. I just thought it was dog."
That was Thursday, the night before Halloween.
Friday afternoon he got a call from a neighbor saying that they didn't want to alarm him, but they had seen a bobcat in the neighborhood.
"I had seen him," said Harold Usry, a former Wrens Police Chief who lives next door to Howard. "My dog had been barking erratically so I stepped out back and saw him under the shrubbery (at another neighbor's house). I started walking over there, because I just thought it was a big old tom cat. But then he stood up and I said 'Holy Moley.' I scolded at him and he just looked at me. He was definitely not afraid of me."
Hoping to run him off, Usry went back into his shop and grabbed a pellet gun.
"I know I shot him four or five times," Usry said. "I know I hit him; I saw the hair move. But it didn't even phase him."
So he called the city to report him and his neighbors to warn them.
"Later I went out to cut the grass and saw him cross the street," Usry said. "I picked up a stick and threw it at him and he just stopped and looked back at me. He looked real skinny, like there might be something wrong with him. Whatever it was, he wasn't afraid of me."
The first report Wrens police remember receiving came in Thursday three weeks ago from the Subway restaurant less than a block from the station.
Taking it down
"I had just stepped out back when I saw this cat between me and the trash dumpster," said store manager Julie Bell. "At first I just thought it was a kitty cat but then I realized it was about knee high. I was pretty sure it was a bobcat and so I went back in to get the other girls. He was pretty, but he was a big cat."
The women called the police station to report the cat, but when officers came over they were unable to find it.
"They didn't believe me. They joked with us and gave us a pretty hard time," Bell said. "But later they set up traps."
The traps, normally used to catch stray dogs, were baited with turkey and ham from the sandwich shop, but didn't do any good.
"Something ate the meat it could reach through the bars but didn't go inside the trap," Bell said. "He was a smart cat. I warned the girls to be careful. I hear cats can be very territorial and I didn't want anybody stepping in what the cat might consider his territory."
While Subway employees saw the cat a few more times, they say it never acted aggressively towards them but did not appear to be frightened of them either.
"Later an officer came back and apologized," Bell said. "He said he'd just seen the cat at an intersection and that now he believed us."
Wrens animal control officer Walter Hannah said there have been a number of reports of missing pets and bobcat sightings over the last few weeks.
Sandy Brown of Old Quaker Road, just a little over 100 yards from Usry's and Howard's home, said that her husband, Charles, had been seeing the cat for some time. They believe that it may be responsible for killing one of their dogs in late July.
"His name was Spike and he was about a two-year-old chow," Brown said.
They found the dog inside their chain-link fence, its nose and face sliced up and its throat torn open.
The Browns have found a couple of severely-mauled cat carcasses in their front yard, out of reach of their fenced dogs.
"A neighbor had come to us saying that he was missing some chickens," Brown said. "I told him our dogs stayed in the fence. Later my husband started seeing the bobcat in the mornings crossing the road and in the neighborhood, and we knew it must of been it."
The cat was spotted and killed Saturday morning about a block from the police station.
"The neighbor came over and told me there was something in my yard," said Jason Sheppard of 303 Stone Street.
He saw the animal sitting in his front yard near the corner of his house.
"It looked real poor, like it was sick," Sheppard said. "And it was moving real slow. So I called the police station to report it."
Police Chief David Hannah and several officers responded to the call where they found the cat just feet away from where Sheppard had first seen it. At that point Chief Hannah used a shotgun to put the animal down.
"There are a lot of parents with small children in the neighborhoods where this animal has been seen and some of them are afraid to let their kids out unattended," the chief said. "There are some rabbits missing and some (house) cats have been torn apart. You never know what a wild animal is going to do, especially a sick one. It could have attacked someone."
Department of Natural Resources officers picked up the animal's carcass Saturday.
Regional Supervisor Vic VanSant with the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division said that he is not convinced all of the attacks were that of the bobcat, although he could not rule them out.
"It is uncommon for bobcats to be seen this often in this type of area, but it isn't unheard of," VanSant said. "Especially if it finds conditions tempting."
These cats generally prefer wooded or overgrown grassy fields with plenty of mice or rats, he said. However, in the fall of the year many juvenile animals, nearly fully grown, are driven away from their mothers and begin looking for their own territory. These animals often have not yet formed a fear of man.
An abundance of free roaming livestock, like semi-tame housecats, rabbits, mice, rats and chickens, could also be very tempting for an array of natural predators.
"There are also several really nasty diseases that cats can carry that may make them act strangely," VanSant said. "It may not make it stay in one area for an extended period of time, but it sounds like there may defintely have been something wrong with this one."
Rabies is just one of these diseases; however, bobcats and other animals are not routinely tested for rabies if they have not bitten or scratched a person or pet that is still living.
"Normal proceedure is that if you or your pet is attacked, you contact the local health department and they determine if the animal needs to be tested," VanSant said. "At that point it becomes a human health risk."
He also said that an animal shot in the head cannot be tested for rabies and they should be confined or dispatched in some way as protect the brain so that it can be tested.
VanSant said his department recommends anyone who finds a wild animal (be it bobcat, raccoon, fox or coyote) in a populated place try to run it off with a pellet gun, sling shot, loud noise or throwing something at it. This will help teach the animal a healthy fear of humans they may one day save its life.
Many of these animals are attracted to food scraps, compost piles and dog and cat food that are left outside.
"From the reports we've received, there may be at least one more bobcat coming into Wrens," Chief David Hannah said.
Monday the city's animal control officer said that he has received reports of new sightings since the other cat was killed on Saturday.
"I don't believe that this is the same cat I've been tracking," Walter Hannah said. "The one I saw Thursday appeared a foot taller and seemed healthier, as far as its weight goes."
Both Hannahs say that they are concerned about health risks associated with the cat that seemed so sick and with a fox Walter Hannah dispatched in a Kings Mill Road neighborhood Sunday.
"The fox would walk a few feet and fall over," he said. "Then it would get up, walk a few more feet and fall over again. It could have been a snakebite; it could have been anything."
The animal control officer said he killed the animal and buried it.
"I don't want to scare anybody, but there's something wrong with these animals," Walter Hannah said. "A bobcat is not a friendly animal. It shouldn't have let so many people get so close to it."
Anyone who sees any wild animals or domestic animals acting strangely in a residential area is encouraged to call the city at (706) 547-3000 and report it. Chief Hannah said measures would be taken to either trap the animal or dispatch it.