Oregon city considers new ordinance because of "pet" bobcat

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Central Point neighbors worry, but owners say bobcat Kona is really a ‘big baby’

By buffy pollock
for the Mail Tribune
October 31, 2006

CENTRAL POINT — A pet bobcat has raised a few eyebrows — and concerned voices — among its neighbors in the new Blue Grass Downs subdivision.

But owners Nick and Joanna Kessler say their 4-year-old, 60-pound Kona is just a pussycat.

“He’s totally domesticated — one hundred percent no different than a normal house cat,” Nick Kessler said Monday.

Neighbor Joe Spurgeon said he was alerted to the bobcat’s presence after noticing Kona’s large kennel in the Kesslers’ yard shortly after they purchased the home last summer.

“We were taking a walk one day and I said to my wife, ‘Man, he must have a really big dog or something,’ ” he said.

“We got closer and there was a tree inside the cage. I said, ‘That’s weird, maybe he’s got a house cat penned up.’ Then the thing stood up and I said, ‘Oh … that’s not a house cat!’ “

Oregon state law permits bobcats to be kept as pets if they are obtained through an outside source, not taken from the wild, though local ordinances can prohibit them. The Kesslers have obtained a permit from the local Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office to keep Kona, one of a half-dozen bobcats registered in Jackson County and 54 in the state.

Kona was bred on the East Coast and has been declawed, the Kesslers said. He can weigh anywhere from 45 to 65 pounds, depending on the season, they said.

After Spurgeon and three other neighbors spoke their concerns before the City Council Thursday, members directed Attorney Doug Engle to draft an ordinance that would specify types of exotic animals, such as bobcats, prohibited as pets within city limits.

Nick Kessler maintains Kona is not dangerous and said his neighbors would be hard-pressed to find evidence of bobcat attacks. According to the ODFW’s Web site, there are no known reports of attacks by bobcats on people.

Kessler said he sees Kona as no different than his German shepherd, which plays with the bobcat lovingly dubbed “Nona” by the Kesslers’ 3-year-old daughter.

On a recent visit, Kona pawed playfully at a Mail Tribune photographer before jumping on his shoulders for a closer greeting.

“He’s a big baby!” Nick Kessler said.

Kessler purchased Kona when the cat weighed less than a pound from a breeder on the East Coast. Kona slept in the same bed as the couple until it reached maturity and began to “mark his territory” indoors — something Kessler noted all male cats do.

Joanna Kessler said it was frustrating for Kona to be targeted because of ignorance and unfounded fear.

“There are dogs that are meaner than Kona,” she said.

Her husband added, “I know people who have had to put down rottweilers or pit bulls because they’re nasty, mean dogs. The guy who bred my cat had been breeding domesticated cats for like 20 years. This is no different.”

Spurgeon disagreed. He noted the couple live close to the future site of Blue Grass Downs park.

“It seems to me the city should’ve changed the ordinance a year ago when this came up the first time. It may be very difficult to change the ordinance now and tell them they have to take him out (of the city) now,” Spurgeon said.

Other neighbors complained to the city about Kona a year ago, when the couple lived on Cascade Drive, said Code Enforcement Officer Ron Barnett. They said the Kesslers were keeping a wild animal as a pet. The matter went to court, where Nick Kessler said the family proved Kona was “being kept as a house pet and the case was dismissed.”

Spurgeon said he’d like to see the matter discussed at length among the Kesslers’ current neighbors.

“If nothing else, I think a kind of debate would be good,” Spurgeon said. “Ask folks, ‘Hey, we got a bobcat or a lynx in the neighborhood, you OK with that?’ And if they are, ‘We’re going to build a city park across the street from it, you OK with that, too?'”

Council members will hear a first reading of a new ordinance pertaining to exotic pets at its Nov. 9 meeting.

Barnett and City Administrator Phil Messina said the Kesslers’ bobcat would not be grandfathered in.

“What it all boils down to is a wild animal is a wild animal, and when it becomes threatened or hurt, it will revert back to being a wild animal,” Barnett said.

“When they change the code, I’ll be going back out there. Really, technically, it always was illegal. We fought it on grounds of (whether it was a) household pet and our definition of household pet was just too vague.”

Nick Kessler said he would continue to fight for Kona, which according to state records, he has kept legally since bringing her into the state four years ago.

“Every time I move, it takes about a year-and-a-half for people to get used to it,” he said Monday, scratching beneath Kona’s chin while the cat pawed playfully at his hand.

“He’s just like a family pet. If I was going to give up and say ‘I’ll get rid of him,’ it’d be a lot cheaper for me, but he’s been around for way too long. I can’t give up on him now.”

Others in county have bobcats

Oregon state law permits bobcats to be kept as pets if obtained through an outside source.

Breeders offer bobcat kittens for $1,500 to much more. The Kesslers declined to disclose what they paid for Kona.

A half-dozen bobcats are registered with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Jackson County, all living in Rogue River, Medford and Central Point.

Medford resident Robin Hall adopted a bobcat kitten, Freckles, about a year ago when a local family who purchased him changed its mind.

Hall said she had grown fond of Freckles, but certainly didn’t recommend them “as pets for just anyone.” Neighbors and friends, Hall said, are curious and enjoy snapshots, but she keeps Freckles away from most visitors to avoid problems.

One Central Point resident with a registered bobcat declined to be interviewed, saying he had been harassed by the public curious about the cat and had to relocate it.

In addition to a veterinary check-up and certification to prove the cat’s origin, a yearly registration is required for keeping a bobcat as a pet. City and county ordinances prohibiting the animals supersede state law.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.


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