'Tiger' turns out to be 'tom'
By Judy Kroeger
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Call it a case of mistaken identity. Fayette County 911 received calls Tuesday evening of a tiger on the loose in the area of Carr and Rankin Air Shaft roads in North Union.
The "tiger" had not escaped from the Wild Animal Orphanage nor from Camelot Veterinary Clinic, both run by Dr. William Sheperd. All their big cats were accounted for. The cat was considerably smaller -- a domestic tabby.
No tiger was ever on the loose. No cougar was spotted, said authorities. Both the state Game Commission and Camelot Veterinary were swamped with calls about the animal.
A couple spotted the feline at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday and called 911 after 9 p.m.
Karen Osler, big-cat handler and wild-animal caretaker for the Wild Animal Orphanage, said she went to the house where a man and a woman had seen the animal, which they described to her as "bright orange."
"The woman told me at first it was a fox because it was so orange," Osler said. "She said it was maybe 2 feet long, 3 feet with its long tail. She said they'd seen it since June."
Osler did not identify the man or the woman.
Sheperd was on call to tranquilize the "tiger" and give it a home or release it, with permission of the Game Commission. Osler did not spot the cat Tuesday night, although a line of people armed with spotlights, rifles and pitch forks were gathering near the residence as she was leaving.
Osler received a second call from the pair Wednesday evening ,saying they had seen the same tiger again.
"I'm looking for this tiger," Osler said. "Dr. Sheperd is ready to come and tranq it. I look and about 100 yards away, it's an orange tabby cat walking in the field -- a short-haired, domestic tabby. I got 10 feet away from the cat, to show them a size comparison. The cat bolted about 20 feet away and stopped. It was 12 to 15 pounds -- an average tom cat."
Osler said cougars have been spotted in the area. She said she saw one near Camelot Veterinary five years ago, but they have tawny coats and avoid being spotted.
"I would rather be wrong than for it to be a displaced or misplaced exotic feline," she said, referring to the orange tabby.
Osler said she might return today with a humane trap and some food to remove the tom cat from the area.
"It's just amazing to me how the rumor has spread," she said. "People were locking up their pets and livestock, and a farmer in Lemont Furnace said three of his cows were attacked -- I would like to see those cows."
Osler said bear hunters sometimes misjudge distance and shoot what they think is a large black bear and end up shooting a cub that is closer than they thought. She also said she has encountered people who generalize and identify all feline species as "tigers."
"I don't doubt they believed what they saw was a tiger," she said.
"I'm hoping the community can calm down. It was a tabby cat. All our exotic cats are accounted for," Osler said.
The Wild Animal Orphanage is in Smock and offers public educational tours the third Sunday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. Donations are $10 for adults and $8 for children 12 and younger. For more information, call 724-880-4808 or 724-437-7838.