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Cleve Bryan ( ) – 12/9/08 05:57 pm

HAMILTON TWP. – Scratches and bites cover the hand and arm of Jonathan Bebbington, after an encounter with a not–so–friendly feline.

Bebbington says, "It hurt, it had a lot of power in its jaws."

That's because the kitty on Bebbington's lap when he was dressed as Santa Claus for pictures appears to be a bobcat.

A woman brought the cat to the "Santa Paws" charity picture fundraiser Sunday at Petsmart in Hamilton Township.

People can bring their pets to get pictures with Santa for $9.95 and at least half the money goes to various animal charities.

Bebbington's been playing Santa at these events for years.

He says, "We've done some exotic different pets. We've had people bring in horses or parrots or snakes, things like that. But I thought a bobcat? Well it's different."

Bobcats can grow to 40 or 50 pounds, Bebbington says this one was not full grown but it's large size, distinctive facial features and short tail leave no doubt it was some kind of bobcat.

He struggled to control the cat for nearly 5 minutes while it bit him repeatedly.

"He locked on here, grabbed the skin," he says as he points to his left hand.

The cat's owner left after the incident without providing her name, though she did tell volunteers with Penny Angel's Beagle Rescue, which ran the event, that she had it shipped from Wyoming for $1,500.

It is illegal to own a bobcat in New Jersey and allegedly this owner was keeping hers tethered in yard.

"Depending on what township she lives in that in itself could be considered animal neglect. So we just want to find out where the animal is and make sure the animal is up to date on it's shots and just find out if the animal is okay," says Christine Tartaro, a spokesperson for Penny Angel's.

There have been other cases of bobcats in South Jersey, including Mr. Peepers at the Cape May County Park Zoo, which was rescued from Bridgeton.

Zoo officials say the cats can appear friendly but do not make good pets.

Vincent Sonetto, supervising animal keeper at the Park Zoo says, "Regardless of how nice it is, eventually it could snap and just turn back to wild, enough to do some damage."

Something Bebbington, a locksmith by trade, found out first hand and if the cat is not found he'll have to go through a series of painful rabies shots.

"I never expected this when volunteering to do this. I love the animals and I would still continue to do this, but it does bother me."

One consolation is Petsmart has offered to cover Bebbington's medical bills.

Anyone with information about the bobcat or its owner should call the Atlantic County Division of Public Health at (609) 645 5931.

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

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