Tragedy struck the sanctuary on Monday 9/13/2010 when Jamie found Storm, the baby rehab bobcat dead in his sleep. Dr. Wynn performed a necropsy and could not find an obvious cause of death other than the fact that the wall of his heart was unusually thick and there had been bleeding in his small intestine. There were no bones or punctures in the intestine, so she fears is could be some viral issue.
Rehab cats are not vaccinated because vaccines are a low does of a contagion that causes an immune response in the vaccinated animal. While that could protect the individual cat, it could expose wild populations to diseases that they cannot fight off, and that is why it isn’t done. Dr. Wynn sent off tissues for further analysis to see if we can find out for sure what caused his death and to see if there is anything we can do to protect Rain and Midnight.
The following is Jamie’s experience so that you might know this little bobcat a bit better. This has been extremely hard for her and is only made harder by people coming up and consoling her. The best thing you can do is just send love and thoughts of well being to Storm’s siblings.
An average day filled with Fur Ball preparations, a Volunteer Committee meeting, and email catch up from the weekend was the order. At feeding time I collected my rats and my bucket as usual and loaded up the dump truck cart. Four live rats and a bucket full of food is too much to haul across the sanctuary by foot. I drove to the rehab bobcats first. The rats were large and it was a tight squeeze for them in the jars. I placed the rats into the feeder tubes one by one.
Next I cleaned the water bowls. At the end having seen none of the kittens I called out to them in our familiar vocalizations. The kittens were at a stage in their development where they hid from humans. However they would always come out for me as I was accepted as one of them. Every night I feed them, if I cannot see them hiding in the bush or perched atop their platforms, I call out to them performing a sort of role call.
I called out to the kittens. Midnight immediately answered and sauntered over. Rain, whom usually is more timid and cautious to reciprocate, answered just after chirping and mewing. I thought this unusual since Storm was almost always the first to greet me. When I did not see him I called out again…and again. Still no answer. I felt nervous; my eyes shifted darting across all areas of the enclosure. I did not see him.
Next I walked the perimeter of the enclosure, going slowly and taking my time. I gradually walked the outside of the enclosure taking in all of the sights, smells, and sounds. Looking for holes in the wire and flies on the ground.
Half way around the enclosure, constantly followed my Midnight and Rain, I grew confused. If Storm had escaped surely he would not have gone far and would return my calls from some tree or the rooftop. I thought to myself with dread, what if he did escape and I never find him? My mind raced and my heart was heavy. I turned the corner and began inspecting the large boma that edged the north side of their enclosure. My eyes scanned the wall for holes and then fell towards the floor as if drawn in. There he lay as if sleeping.
I stooped to wake him only to realize there were flies around him and he had not responded to my footsteps. Midnight and Rain, who had been enthusiastically, shadowing me, approached slowly with a somberness that broke my heart. They looked up at me with their big golden eyes and then back to Storm’s lifeless body, sniffed his head and then walked away. They seemed to be confused at his lack of reaction and relieved that I was there to help him.
The reality of the scene that had unfolded before me crashed down on my chest with a weight that was so unbearable it restricted my breath. Tears erupted from my eyes and streaked down my face in an uncontrollable flood. I cried out NO! Please Noooo! I clasped my hand over my lips. The spoken word was prohibited in the presence of these bobcats being reared with little human contact so as to ensure that they will one day be released into the wild. Still my thoughts screamed inside my head.
Eyes bleary I hurried to the enclosure door. I fumbled the keys out of my pocket. Hands trembling I dropped them into the mud. I retrieved them and steadied my grip so I could unlock the door. I secured myself within the safety gate and then unclipped the main door. Midnight was so nearby that I jumped into the enclosure and quickly swung the door shut snapping it closed. Midnight and Rain circled me as I made my way to the boma. Circling my legs and jumping ahead as if it they were leading the way chirping all along. I faced the large boma and thought of deconstructing a pathway through it. The tangle of branches were intimidating and I grew impatient. I stepped high into the thicket of dried sharp brush. I stepped again and maneuvered my torso under a large branch.
I stretched far down into the boma and felt his cold hard little body. Tears flooded my eyes making it hard to see. I squeezed them tightly shut several times clearing the saline that was blocking my view. I gently gathered his scruff and lifted him upwards. The scruff was tight and the body maintained its shape as it was lifted towards the sky. Midnight and Rain had vanished. Perhaps they had been fearful that I might snatch them up next. Or perhaps they were hiding in the boma confused with the situation.
I made my way back across the enclosure and into the safety gate. I lay him down gently in the middle of the floor. He was in a delicate sleeping position. One paw perfectly tucked beneath his body, the other outstretched before him. His head balanced perfectly on his nose which touched the ground as if he were laying down watching the birds and had nodded off slowly as his nose grew closer and closer to the ground with each dreary nod of his head. An image of him as a baby flashed through my mind, a memory so clear of this spunky and voracious eater. Just a wobbly little kitten he had eaten so much turkey for dinner one evening. He stopped to take a break and had fallen asleep face down in his plate of food.
As he lay there it was heard to believe that he was not going to wake up in a few moments and continue on with his antics. The reality flushed over me, my skin grew cold, my stomach sick. My face contorted into a mournful expression no matter how hard I tried to fight it back and internalize my feelings. The reality of it was so sickening my heart ached. I carried his lifeless body back to the hospital to keep him in the cooler until a necropsy could be done.
At the end of the room there stood a massive collection of bins with blankets of all shapes and sizes. I pulled out the top bin. It was light with the weight of only a small blanket or towel. I opened the lid only to be struck in the heart once more. A lump swelled with in my throat and my eyes welled up once more. I reached out with the same hand that had just grasped the lifeless body of Storm the bobcat and timidly retrieved the last linen in the bin. It was a red fleece blanket with white snowflakes adorning it. I pulled the cozy blanket in close and closed my eyes. I recalled the night nearly five months ago when I retrieved the three kittens from their rescuer in Alabama.
I remember walking into the room to see a cardboard box on the coffee table. I pulled open the top of the box and peered inside. My eyes fixed on three tiny balls of spotted fluff snuggled up in the warm of this very same red fleece blanket with white snowflakes adorning it.
Necropsy Report 9/20/2010. Storm’s initial necropsy showed a thickening of the heart wall and some blood in his intestines. We feared the latter may indicate some sort of viral disease, but the lab reports came in today and conclude that the blood was just the result of his body decomposing after death and that the thickened heart wall was probably the cause of death. This is a congenital heart condition and thus a birth defect. Since he was never sick but rather always the rowdiest of the bunch we had no way of knowing that he had this problem. It is the same heart condition that we treat Kalahari for, but it usually kills kittens before they are diagnosed.
Read our keepers’ tributes to this precious little bobcat here:
Learn more about his rescue here: http://bigcatrescue.org/video/00351.htm