To watch live UStream TV camera of Skip’s recuperation, go to:
It was just another ho-hum drive along State Road 46 when Nici Haerter caught an unusual sighting: a bobcat nestled in a field.
A cat lover, Haerter quickly pulled over.
“I thought, ‘wow, I get to see a live bobcat!'” the 44-year-old musician recalled Thursday. “Then he put his head down. Then I knew something was wrong.”
The bobcat had been hit by a vehicle — its hip was twisted and it was dragging one leg. Haerter, who has five feral cats she rescued, called her husband, Skip, who jumped into action. Through the Mount Plymouth couple’s efforts, the bobcat, affectionately called “Skip,” is on the mend at the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa.
“When she did call me, it was not a surprise,” said Skip Haerter, a 49-year-old unemployed construction superintendent. “She is just that kind of a girl.”
Skip Haerter was prepared to handle the dangerous task of getting the bobcat to safety — he said he has wrestled distressed alligators in the past and once helped to train a Bengal tiger.
“I know the rules,” said Haerter, who ignored his own fears of approaching the bobcat.
He grabbed a blanket. He threw it on himself first, slowly moving toward the bobcat. Then, he laid it across the big cat’s body.
The covering gives such an animal the appearance of safety and is more likely to remain calm when a human approaches it, according to Big Cat Rescue experts.
Haerter picked up the cat — estimated at 2 to 3 years old and weighing about 17 pounds — and put it in the back of his truck. But it wasn’t long until he and his wife realized they needed something more to keep the cat secure.
“He was very angry. He’s got very long arms,” Skip Haerter said. “I knew enough to keep away from him.”
A friend of the couple came by with a dog cage big enough to fit a German shepherd. Haerter wrestled with the cat until he got it into the cage, escaping without injury.
Keeping tabs on ‘Skip’s’ recovery
But then they weren’t sure what to do with the cat.
Calls to veterinarians and rescue groups were fruitless — none would take in the cat. Finally, they learned about and got in touch with Big Cat Rescue. The group’s president, Jamie Veronica, made the two-hour trip to pick up the distressed cat.
The outlook wasn’t good. The bobcat had a shattered pelvis, heavy internal bleeding and they suspected he might have a damaged spleen.
“He was in such dire straits,” said Carole Baskin, Big Cat Rescue’s founder and chief executive officer.
Several days passed after the Dec. 28 rescue before the bobcat was stabilized enough for surgery to insert two plates in its pelvis and a screw in its hip.
The bobcat has been recovering in a small cage at the rehab center, where a live video stream allows people to watch its progress online. The stream has gotten more than 28,000 views.
“It’s nuts,” Nici Haerter said. “People are obsessed with him.”
“Skip” will spend four to six weeks in the smaller cage before moving on to a 1,200-foot rehab area. There is no human contact or sound, and rats introduced for food will run through the area randomly to help maintain the bobcat’s wildlife instincts.
In late spring or early summer, the bobcat will be released into the wild in an area close to where he was found. Big Cat Rescue workers hope to find a property owner near S.R. 46 with at least 40 acres of quiet, native forest land who is willing to allow the cat to be released there.
‘God led me to this animal’
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The area around S.R. 46, which stretches from Sanford to Mount Dora, is home to animals ranging from raccoons to deer to turkeys to Florida black bears.
“It’s a wonderful wildlife area,” said Joy Hill, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, adding that bobcat fatalities on that road are rare.
A dirt-floored concrete tunnel beneath the roadway with fences bordering the road allows critters, mostly bears, to travel freely without becoming an accident victim. It has helped to reduce animal injuries, Hill said.
As for Nici Haerter, she is relieved “Skip” is in safe hands with Big Cat Rescue, founded in 1992, which works to reduce the number of large cats that are abused, abandoned or injured.
“It’s amazing. I really feel like God led me to this animal,” she said. “He would’ve died. But I saw his little head sticking out.”