Michigan man has bobcat in "traveling zoo"

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Clarksville’s Bill Yoder treats traveling zoo of bobcat, coyote and deer like pets

By Aaron Ogg | The Grand Rapids Press
January 03, 2010, 7:30AM

“I don’t get anyone stealing anything out of my truck or nothin’,” said Yoder, 59, of Clarksville.

Youngsters occasionally have meddled with the handmade, multi-level critter compound in Yoder’s backyard. So, he installed security cameras to keep an eye out for would-be trouble makers.

“We record everything,” he said. “You have to. Too many idiots.”

“People have thought about trying, but there’s not much profit in it,” Yoder said. “I’m just in it to survive. I love people and I love animals.”

Yoder’s outdoor passion was kindled while growing up on his Amish father’s 65-acre farm in Alto. He raised his first buck fawn in 1991, and his critters since have visited outdoors expos all across Michigan and lifted spirits at Spectrum Health-Blodgett.

Yoder said hospital staff joked about calling part of the facility the “Yoder wing” because of the time he stayed in it. Yoder spent about 130 days there each year for three years after he was gored in 1997 by a 9-point buck he kept. The animal died later of old age, Yoder said.

The incident left Yoder with about 30 puncture wounds, broke his neck and exacerbated his intestinal problems.

“I was pretty sick for a while,” Yoder said.

Still, he holds no grudges. He now keeps fenced-in bucks for his live deer and exotic animal displays, which this year includes stops at the Huntin’ Time Expo West from Jan. 29-31 at Walker’s DeltaPlex and the Ultimate Sport Show from March 18-21 at Grand Rapids’ DeVos Place.

“It wasn’t the animal’s fault,” Yoder said. “When you bottle feed them, they lose their fear of humans.”

After he fed a cookie to one of his bucks, Ricky the deer raked his antlers on a metal bar and began ripping apart a plywood box.

“When they do that to your body, it hurts,” Yoder said. “You go in there now, he’d kill ya.”

When “in the rut,” Yoder said his deer are more dangerous than his coyote or bobcat.

Despite the dismembered animal limbs scattered around Fred’s cage, he’s really a cuddly lover, Yoder said.

“Just like a big house cat on steroids,” he said.

Sky the coyote is more skiddish, Yoder said. She is not as car friendly as Fred, with her tendency toward vomiting and diarrhea. But both enjoy a nice helping of raw chicken on top of their canned and dry food diets.

“They’re pretty spoiled,” he said. “That’s how you keep ’em happy and healthy.

“Instead of (the TV show) ‘Married with Children,’ we’re ‘Married with Animals.’ ”

Yoder said his animal pens must meet zoo specifications. They are subject to regular inspections and must meet certain size criteria depending on the type of wildlife boarded. He also lets some animals roam around the house and play with his German Shorthaired Pointer, Sergio, and Wirehaired Dachshund, Daryl.

“It’s something I enjoy,” Yoder said. “You can’t read a book and learn how to take care of an animal. We live with our animals.”

Yoder has scaled back a deer-tracking operation he started several years ago that has taken him and Daryl to the Upper Peninsula, Jackson and Ionia counties, Illinois and Canada, among other places.

He still offers deer searches locally, but farther-flung enterprises leave him little time to pursue his own love of hunting, he said.

“It made me so busy I couldn’t even do anything,” Yoder said.

Buck and goat mounts, turkeys, a bear skin and pelts of otters, minx, coyotes and foxes line Yoder’s trophy room. He said he doesn’t go after little deer anymore.

“It’s kind of like chasing skirts — you settle down when you get married,” he said.

Before he devoted his life to nurturing wild animals, Yoder was a gym rat. He launched a health club in Lake Odessa in 1976 — now Viking Sportsplex — but hung it up 10 years later, citing stress.

He rubbed elbows with famous body builders Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was “way before he was the Terminator,” let alone California’s governor, Yoder said.

Now, a tanning bed and a modest collection of equipment is scattered about Yoder’s weight room. He traded bulging biceps for furry friends.

“You could say I’m getting to be a softy,” Yoder said. “I respect all the animals. God put ’em here for a reason.”



Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org

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