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Ohio bobcat rescue gets volunteer arrested

BY LORI KURTZMAN – LKURTZMAN@ENQUIRER.COM

The baby bobcat weighed less than two pounds and was loaded with parasites. More than 100 ticks had leeched onto her tiny body. Her ribs protruded beneath a layer of fluff.

When the sickly kitten was discovered wandering in southeast Ohio, caregivers stepped in to help. She changed hands a few times and ultimately, on June 25, landed with Dick and Mary Carrelli, seasoned volunteer wildlife rehabilitators who operate Second Chance Wildlife in Fayetteville.

For the Carrellis, that’s when things started to fall apart.

Wildlife officers showed up a week later and took the bobcat away. Dick protested and got arrested. Mary grew so frustrated with what was happening that she relinquished her rehabilitation permits to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, possibly ending a 20-year career of caring for wild animals.

“This whole thing is unfair,” Mary Carrelli said.

It could get even worse. Dick Carrelli, 66, is to be arraigned this morning in Brown County Municipal Court on a charge of deterring wildlife officers. It’s a first-degree misdemeanor that could mean up to six months in jail.

“From my perspective,” said David Kohler, wildlife management supervisor at the Division of Wildlife’s Xenia office, “it’s a pretty cut-and-dry situation.”

Bobcats are an endangered species in Ohio. To care for a bobcat, a rehabilitator needs a special permit allowing for the care of state endangered mammals. The state has 88 wildlife rehabilitation permit holders, said Carolyn Caldwell, who coordinates the permits, but only three are permitted to handle endangered mammals.

The Carrellis are not among them.

When they took in the bobcat, Mary Carrelli said, she quickly notified authorities, as law requires. She thought she’d worked out a deal to care for the animal temporarily – until she got a call a few days later from Caldwell, who wanted to arrange a pickup. Mary Carrelli, who said she has nearly 10 years of experience with bobcats, said she pleaded with Caldwell to issue an endangered-mammals permit.

Caldwell refused.

“You have to keep in mind that it can be a very emotional issue for people,” Caldwell said. “It’s very difficult for people to be objective if they have the animal in hand.”

Caldwell said the permit process usually involves a written request to the Division of Wildlife chief. She felt Mary Carrelli’s request was too spontaneous, too rooted in emotion, and would have skirted protocol.

So five wildlife officers arrived on July 2 to remove the bobcat. Mary and Dick Carrelli said they were willing to cooperate. But Dick Carrelli, feeling as though they’d been treated unfairly – not just in this instance but in others, and in particular by Caldwell – wanted a way to have the case heard by a judge.

He decided to do something that would get him arrested. “No, you cannot have the bobcat kitten,” Dick Carrelli said he told an officer. “He said, ‘Are you sure?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ “

Dick Carrelli got the cuffs and the bobcat was whisked away. A few days later, Mary mailed her permits back to the state, signing her letter “Former Volunteer.” Second Chance’s phone message now refers calls to the Division of Wildlife’s Xenia office.

“We’re not shut down, we’re just not receiving animals,” Mary Carrelli said. “We have issues to resolve. We’ll be back up and going.”

http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/ 20070711/NEWS01/707110377/1056/COL02