Bobcat Kitten Rescue Attempt
Only hope keeps me from utter despair this morning.
July 21, 2017 3:47 PM: I get a call from a Florida Wildlife Conservation Biologist who says she’s on the scene of a “confirmed bobcat report.” She says they were called there by the manger of the building where the tiny waif was pawing at his reflection in the glass doors. Workers had tried to capture the kitten in a box, but had scared him off into the high grass. The FWC texted me a photo to confirm that it was a bobcat at the door.
Heart and soul launch into overdrive as I take down all of the particulars and then relay the message to Jamie, to see if she wants to go. Since it is such a small kitten we figure we can handle it alone, so we load up the Tundra and head an hour and a half away. By the time we hit downtown Tampa, it’s rush hour traffic almost all the way to the site, so we don’t arrive until 5:35 PM. On the way, I’ve called the office manager to gather more details and tell him we are heading his way.
I ask if we set humane traps if he is willing to check and reset them but he checks with his boss who says we can’t do it on his property. They will, however, allow us to dig around under bushes around their property to see if we can net the kitten.
Starting where the cat was last seen, Jamie and I spread out so we have two lines of site toward the same area between us. What one might miss, the other may catch. It’s been raining, so we are crawling on all fours, digging through thick hedges, and having to answer nosey bystanders who want to know if we are chasing a leopard, or if we will come take care of their feral cat problems.
Without discussing it, we both gravitate to the area between the office and the six lane highway out front. The FWC biologist had told me that 3 days ago she saw a dead bobcat in the middle of the highway, but that a few hours later, it was gone. She said that she had rolled by slowly, to be sure the cat was dead, but didn’t know what had happened to the body. Apparently, the mother bobcat had been a common visitor in the area, and the workers knew her from afar, but they didn’t know that she had kittens.
Jamie was raised by bobcats and she speaks bobcat fluently. She knows the little chirps they make and the guttural little sounds that mothers and babies share. I hear her calling out to the kitten and I hear a lot of replies, but the ones I’m hearing are all in the tree tops. Mockingbirds LOVE the sounds that bobcats make because it’s fully within their repertoire to mimic them exactly. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone searching for a bobcat, only to find a bird.
Jamie says she could hear the bobcat though. She has amazing senses of hearing, smell, eyesight and touch. It’s kind of supernatural. By contrast, I’m old, wearing contact lenses, that are causing my eyes to ache because of the sweaty salt that has caked them already. My hearing is going too, but I do still have an amazing sense of touch. I think I could tell you how many stitches in every seam of my clothing.
I can tell from Jamie’s launch into stalk mode that she’s seen or heard something in the thick swatch of grass, cattails, weeds and trees that create a border between the parking lot and the highway. It’s that area you always see along roads that was built for drainage and during the wet season is usually full of water and alligators. Jamie is now fully engulfed in the foliage, but I can catch glimpses of her. She’s spotted the bobcat and is trying to net him, but there is no room to maneuver the net.
The kitten starts to come out of a fist size hole in the brush. I see just the nose and eyes, but he sees me and ducks back into his little tunnel. There is another tiny opening a little further to the north, and the nose appears there, but again, the kitten sees me and ducks back in. Jamie tells me to run north and head him off. He’s racing from her, leaping over a small tree, and racing parallel to the highway, but on the safe side of the ditch.
Once we are both sure we’ve lost him, I decide to go to the road side of the ditch, in order to shoo him away from the road if he tries to go that way. As I’m pushing through cattails and brush over my head, I feel my feet sinking into deeper and deeper water and am just praying this is too dense for alligators to be lurking. I really don’t like those dinosaurs. They just have no kindness at all in their eyes.
Emerging roadside, I track the sounds of Jamie and her bobcat calls. We go the full length of this swath and as I see her turn to go East, I try to find a spot to cross back over to help her search around the lake to the north of where the kitten was last seen. I’m glad there is a lake. It could mean alligators for sure, which puts us all in peril, but it means the little one has access to water and there are usually frogs, bugs and other little things near lakes that could sustain the baby.
As I’m searching for a crossing spot, I smell death. I remember the FWC biologist telling me the mother had disappeared. Fact was, she had almost disappeared. Her decaying body was laying right at the edge of the pavement in the grass. There was still a bit of ragged fur holding her skeleton and some maggot infested muscle together. I picked her up and carried her back to the spot where I had originally crossed the ditch.
Sometimes when I touch someone, or something, I get a flood of images that are not my own (unless it is just a vivid imagination) My heart is in my throat, seeing images of the kitten, having no other choice, but to eat the decaying body of his own mother when he could no longer rouse her to help him.
Usually, when I pick up a bobcat who has been killed by a car, I bring it to the sanctuary and the body is cremated by a pet funeral service. This time, the images were telling me to leave the body where the kitten could find it, but not be so dangerously close to the road. I struggled with that a bit, but gave in and left her there in the overgrowth. I’m sure she would have wanted to protect her kit in any way she could.
Jamie and I searched and searched and finally decided to set up the humane trap down in the first tangle of blackberry bushes (bobcats always seem to find blackberry bushes) but when I opened the box I discovered that the brand new trap was bent out of shape and the trigger plate wouldn’t cause the door to close. Jamie always loved McGiver and seems to have made that persona part of her own. Most of the photos I have from this day are her trying to fix the trap and place it, as I wasn’t much help; other than to hold it still while she pulled out the bent wire.
We got it all set up and filled it with meats we had brought. We laid grass on the floor of the trap so it wouldn’t feel weird to walk on the wire. We covered the trap with branches, and long grasses, so it wouldn’t look so foreign. We then climbed back up the bank to find the bobcat kitten sitting out in the middle of the huge grassy field, just watching us. Only ears and eyes poked up over the high grass.
Jamie and I both grabbed our nets and ran toward the baby. He’s small. How fast could he possibly run? A lot faster than us, it turns out. Jamie and I have done this enough to know how to distract the cat by being on both sides and trying to corral them into a corner. The cat can’t watch us both. We got him into a lakeside thicket of trees and what looked to be massive amounts of poison ivy. The only thing that freaks me out worse than alligators is poison ivy.
We piled in headlong anyway and both of us later confessed we were thinking that this was probably going to result in a trip to the emergency room as we both would soon find ourselves absolutely covered in the nasty rash. What mattered was saving the kitten, so we were ripping it out by the fistfuls trying to find the bobcat who had disappeared into the thick tangled mess.
We worked toward each other, but clearly the kitten had escaped us because he later turned up on the other lake bank. I say that, but don’t know if it is true, because I don’t know if we are chasing a bobcat or four of them. He isn’t letting us get a good look. There is a hawk who has been watching this whole scene unfold and I think to myself, that if we don’t get this kitten, the hawk will.
Much, much later, Jamie finds him on that other lake bank and from a distance I see her drop into stalk mode. She signals me with one hand, never taking her eyes off the kitten. I begin to run across the field but under the high grass it’s a plain of about 4 inches of water, so I’m splashing and making some noise. Jamie signals for me to stop.
I’m assuming that my running and splashing is causing the kitten to consider bolting. I know I’m going to loose my shoes anyway, so I kick them off and wait, sock footed, and ankle deep in mud, for a signal. She has her net poised, just above the ground at an angle. I know the process. When you net a bobcat they always leap up. That pushes the loose netting out over the rim of the handle. Then you can flip the net rim on edge and the cat is trapped in the net, which is sealed by the weight of the cat holding the net against the edge of the ringed rim.
I tippy toe around behind the cat, hoping to draw his attention away from Jamie so she can drop the net over him and she does. The problem is that there is so much foliage around him and he’s so small, he doesn’t leap up. Instead he slinks under the edge of the rim. There is a moment of pause before Jamie tries again, but again there just isn’t a way to bring the net down fully to the ground, and the kitten again slips away under the rim.
Now I see it in Jamie’s eyes. This kitten isn’t going to die out here, even if it means she’s going to be bitten to the bone. She drops the net and lunges for him with her hands, but he’s down into the mass of vines and grasses and disappears from sight. Just missed!
This same sort of scene plays out again and again as we think we have the kitten cornered, or trapped in a small space between us, only to lose sight of him. At one point, I can see that Jamie is on his trail again, and seems to have him in a narrow spot between the brush and the lake. I’d really like to have him try to swim away because many of the bobcats I’ve been able to capture over the years thought they could out swim me. This little one doesn’t make that move.
I race toward Jamie, only to drop one leg about 14 inches into an 8 inch wide pipe that’s been driven into the ground. The force of running and stopping so abruptly feels like it’s broken my leg. My foot is crammed into the pipe at an angle that doesn’t look like I’m going to be walking any time soon. I haul myself up and out of the hole, as Jamie asks if I’ve fallen into a bobcat den. I wish.
I’m kind of surprised at first because the top layer of skin is all scraped back from skidding down the edge of the hard plastic pipe, but I can stand on the leg and it isn’t bleeding. Well, I guess my blood vessels were all just in shock, because a few moments later, it was a bloody scene. My first thought, after being thankful that the leg and foot weren’t broken was, “I wonder if a direct cut into the blood stream coming in contact with hundreds of pounds of poison ivy would just kill a person from inside?”
I stick my net in the hole in the ground, so we don’t run into that in the darkening eve, but who knows what that was for, or how many of them could be lurking in the grass out here?
We keep looking for the cat and Jamie tries calling around to find some smaller, humane cat traps. I remember that we are in Lakeland and have a great relationship with the founder of the ASPCA there, so I call Howie and ask if he can call Mary and find us some cat traps. Not only does she find traps, but puts us in contact with her best feral cat trapper, Bruce.
I call Bruce to see if he can bring some have-a-heart traps but have to hang up on him because Jamie’s found the kitten again. I drop the phone and go running across the field again, as fast as I can hobble anyway, but we loose him again. It’s dark and the traps are the only chance we have now. I call Bruce back and he says he’ll be there in about 20 minutes. Jamie and I continue to search with flash lights but even if we see the eye shine, the chances of catching him in the dark are about zero.
When Bruce shows up he hauls out four better size traps for this little guy, but says no cat will go in a trap with ants. The trap Jamie and I set earlier, was already covered in ants. He tells us that Pam Cooking spray, is great for deterring ants, but he’s out. I ask who wants to go find some, and I get elected. That turned out to be a mistake.
Siri and google maps all insisted there was a Publix Super market just the other side of the six lane highway. What IS over there is a complex of theater and shops and a gaggle of people out enjoying their Friday night. I go through the entire huge complex, on narrow little roads full of cars and pedestrians. Google keeps telling me I have arrived at my destination, but there is no supermarket, or anything like it in here.
I pull up maps again, and look for something else. I see a Target on the other side of the highway (right next door to where we were) so I head over there. I run across the parking lot and to the cooking aisle. I try not to engage anyone about why this bleeding, limping, sweaty person needs two cans of cooking spray. A mother pulls her child aside as I run out the door. No telling what was going through her mind.
By the time I get back to Jamie and Bruce they are swelling from all the mosquito bites. They set up and bait the traps in the areas where the kitten seemed to feel the safest hiding from us. Bruce says he will come reset and check traps in the morning before first light. We are further north of the property where we were forbidden to set traps, so we figure, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Bruce tells me he recently captured 52 feral cats. He is our last chance at saving this baby. I tell him if he catches the cat, not only will we make sure he gets that Big Cat Rescue logo tee he wants, but he can name the kitten and he will have life time access to visit the sanctuary.
Jamie and I go to a fast food joint to grab a quick meal because it’s 9:30 at night. I try washing as much of the poison ivy off me in the restroom that I can. I mop up the blood and evaluate the swelling. This doesn’t look good. While waiting for our meals to arrive, Jamie is researching poison ivy leaves. She’s thinking (or hoping) that what we were digging around in, up to our eyeballs, was NOT poison ivy, despite the three leaf reddish hued stalks. After snarfing down our meal as quickly as we could (the staff wanted to lock up and go home) we went to fuel up the Toyota truck. We had gotten here on the last eighth of a tank, but didn’t want to stop on the way and lose any more light.
While Jamie filled up the Tundra, I went inside to buy some Ibuprofen, at Jamie’s urging. Her bad ankle feels like a hot poker is trying to sever the connection to her foot. I never take meds, so I end up buying a PM type, so before long my speech is slurring, but I can’t even set my foot on the floor because just the road vibration feels like it’s going to make me pass out. Jamie’s in worse shape because she’s driving and can’t take the night time version of the pain reliever.
The next day Big Cat Rescuers, Jamie, Gale, Kathryn and Victor, return to the scene to resume looking for the kitten. They also want to check out the trees on the far side of the highway, just in case the momma bobcat was trying to relocate her kittens and may have only moved part of the litter when she was hit. The kitten wasn’t found and this time, Jamie did not hear him chirping back his replies. The only hope left is Bruce and his mastery of the feral cat traps (which caught two opossum last night). He said we should leave the area quiet for a while so as not to scare away the baby.
Thank you Stacy B. for sending us the photos above of the kitten from earlier in the day.
As for my leg. I’ll live. It will be a few days before Jamie and I know how the poison ivy issue will turn out. Meanwhile someone calls and asks us to take a bunch of tigers. Stay tuned for that one.
Wild Bobcat Kitten Update 7/23/2017
So far the traps we have set for this poor little orphan has caught:
- 3 opossum
- 1 rat
- 1 water moccasin snake
Jamie, Gale, Kathryn and Victor all did a physical search on Saturday and there was no sign or sound of the baby bobcat, like there had been the night before. We have searched and searched.
Carole put fliers and did a neighborhood mailing for the gated community we couldn’t put out flyers in looking for leads on the whereabouts of this orphaned bobcat kitten. We sent out an email to 41 of our supporters who live in the 33803 zip code asking them to pass out fliers to help find the baby. If you are in that area, you can get the flier at the top of this page: BigCatRescue.org/bobcat-rehab
Wild Bobcat Kitten Update 7/27/2017
Last night Vicky O’Neal called me to say that she had seen the post of the Lost Pets of Polk County Facebook page. She had photos and a video clip of the kitten from Friday July 21st at 10 am. This is the earliest sighting so far that I know of. These are her photos:
Movie file IMG_9119
Vicky and some Lakeland maintenance guys took photos and videos and they said they were calling for help, so she thought that City of Lakeland employees had it covered, but no one called us until 3PM on Friday.
Angeline Scott, a biologist for the Florida Wildlife Commission, was the one to call me on 3PM Friday after she had been called to the GTE FCU on the corner of Harden and Oakbridge Pkwy. She sent me the original photos that are on this page.
Someone else, who’s name I did not get, who works at GTE FCU was the one who sent the other photos of the kitten in the grass. I spoke w/ the manager Adrean Saglan at GTE who said we could not set traps on their property so we called Bruce Nance 863 944-2212 who is the feral cat trapper for SPCA Florida in Lakeland and helped him set traps on the property to the north of the GTE property on Friday the 21st. He’s been checking and resetting the traps every day and gives us reports on what he’s caught that was not the bobcats(s)
Another poster on the Lost Pets of Polk County Facebook page said she saw two kittens eating something dead (their mother) at the side of the road, but so far she’s the only one to say there were two kittens.