OAK HARBOR — Several people at Covenant Harbor Retirement Center called police Thursday just after 9 a.m. to report they saw a large cat, possibly a female lion or cougar, police Chief Steven Weirich said.
"More than one person saw it," Weirich said. "One resident's daughter said she saw it walk by as she looked out a patio window."
Oak Harbor police were told the cat walked into a field and then entered woods north of the retirement center at the dead-end of Finke Road.
Weirich said he called African Safari and Kenny Hetrick, owner of Tiger Ridge Exotics in Stony Ridge, to see if they were missing any animals. Both keep a variety of exotic animals, including big cats. Both said no animals were missing, but Hetrick offered to help trap the mystery animal.
"We have lions, tigers, bobcats, lynx and cougars," said Hetrick's wife, Roberta.
She said her husband would try to help capture the roaming feline.
"He's got all the equipment," she said.
Weirich said he contacted the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which checked the area for tracks but found none — except for a lot from raccoon and deer.
Weirich said wildlife officials indicated if the animal was a cat, it probably would remain in wooded areas during the day and most likely would stay away from people. Even so, Weirich said, his department is playing it safe.
"We set up two large box traps," he said, "and baited them with cat food."
Weirich said officers will watch the area in the mornings to make sure children from R.C. Waters Elementary School are safe.
After the sighting Thursday, one of the people who contacted police also contacted the school and officials canceled recess, Weirich said.
"Our main idea is to catch this thing and identify it," he said. "I just hope we can catch it and get it someplace it's supposed to be."
On May 9, a family in Gibsonburg sighted and photographed what they thought was a mountain lion in their back yard.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources wildlife officer Brian Bury visited the home of Brenda and David Rogers, but couldn't verify any mountain lion tracks. Upon examining the photo the family shot, he was unable to determine the size of the cat.
The couple told Bury the cat came within 150 feet of their house and that it seemed to be patrolling a field about 300 feet from the residence.
Weirich said he expected to trap a number of critters during the next week, like possums and raccoons, but he definitely was not interested in trapping one: skunks.
"It'll be interesting," he said, laughing.
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