It's taken me awhile to get to a place from which I can write this post. I have had a lot to process and come to terms with. But I'm finally there. The thing about blogging is, if you start telling a good story before you know how it ends, you can be in for a surprise, and not necessarily a nice one, and then you've got to figure out how to convey that to many thousands of people. This is why I sometimes wind up not blogging about some of the best things, because I don't want to have everyone fall in love with some creature, and then be crushed when things don't end so well. For instance, I've raised three beautiful brown thrashers to from Day 9 to release this summer, but I didn't blog them, first because, feeding them every half-hour, then every hour, I didn't have time to, and second because I was afraid they might not all make it. Because you just never know with young things. You're raising them using an artificial diet in artificial surrounds, and who knows? Maybe you get that diet wrong, and they don't do well. I'm happy to say that the thrashers are healthy and sleek and strong and have been free for over a week and are lighting up our lives, hanging around the yard, still swooping in for handouts. So maybe you'll see them here before too long. Or maybe the world will just keep sweeping me along with new things to write about, and I'll save them for the next book.
So I went on a 7.6 mile run/lope down Dean's Fork today, and it was all so beautiful and wild and heartening that I was finally OK with having to tell you that the bobkitten I took in will not be coming back to Indigo Hill for release. It is a strange story, and there's more to it than just OOH and AHH. The minute I had that cat in my care, I went into a 36-hour panic attack about the possibility that it might be euthanized. I was so afraid that if I went through the proper channels and contacted my county wildlife officer, who would then have to contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, that some kind of ruling would come down from the state of Ohio that the kitten would be taken from me and put down. My fear may seem irrational, but it was very, very real to me, and I grappled with it, pacing in circles as I made phone calls trying to figure out the right thing to do for Bobkit. At the same time, I knew I had to go through the proper official channels for this state threatened species, so I steeled myself and made the call. To my immense relief, my kind county wildlife officer showed up the next morning to pick up the kitten, then transfer him to an intern who would drive him to a regional ODNR office, from which he'd then be taken to Ohio's only qualified bobcat rehabilitator in Lake County, up near Cleveland. I could hardly believe it was true, that Bobkit would have a chance to grow up and be returned to the wild. I was so thrilled that everything seemed to be going OK. I told myself that my fear was irrational; that the state would do right by this animal and the people who'd found it and cared for it.
I went off to Iowa with my kids, and after we returned I got a phone call from a District Manager of ODNR in my area. He was very kind and very sorry to have to tell me that my worst fears had been realized. The bobkitten had, in fact, been put down. It seems he was taken to another district office prior to being taken to the rehabilitator, and while he was there lots of people were looking at him, and one employee wanted to take his photo, but didn't want a dead mouse in the picture. Which I had given him so he'd have a meal for the road. He loved those little mousies, and he had a very small tank, and it would be at least five hours before he got to his next meal. So I sent a mouse for the road. She opened his carrier and reached in to move the mouse, and the bobkitten took exception to that. He lunged and grabbed her hand and he would not let go, because he was a wild bobcat, and he thought she was taking away his food. And nobody should get anywhere near a wild bobcat with bare hands, because bobcats are like honey badgers, whether they're adorable and tiny or big and brawny. They're tough animals. Bobkit was just doing what comes naturally.
Because there was a remote possibility that the kitten could be rabid, the difficult decision was made to euthanize him for testing. The only way you can test for rabies is to look at brain tissue. Enough said. The would-be photographer felt horrible about this, and offered to wait out a 28-day quarantine, but by then, if the kittten were rabid, she could be dead. She was overruled.
It was just a rotten thing all the way around, and I'm sure nobody felt and continues to feel worse about it than that poor woman with the bitten hand. After I got over my initial shock and anguish, I realized that that could well have been me with the horrible dilemma and the holes in my hand. After all, hadn't I made a little video of him, chewing up his mouse? Yes, I had. I'd had gloves on when I laid the mouse in his carrier, but once he latched onto it and was happily chewing, I had to take my glove off to work my iPhone. I had to make a video, because it was so amazing to see this little thing, and I wanted to share it with you. So who am I to judge her? Nobody, that's who. It could so easily have happened to me.
I cried for most of the rest of that day that I got the call, and still felt like I'd been hit by a truck the next morning. I had to tell this story to the kind people who'd rescued the kitten in the first place, and they were a worse mess than I was. I had to tell Bill and the kids and Shila, too. We'd all gotten so wrapped up in thinking we had saved him from certain death, only to unwittingly send him to another certain death. Call my day of panic a premonition...I was a nervous wreck from the moment I laid eyes on that bobkit until Officer Bear's truck disappeared down the driveway. I was so sure something would go wrong. I was right. There were just too many people in the mix.
But rabies, you can't fool around with. And a human life is more precious than a bobcat life, and that's the truth. For me, it dredged up what happened with my beloved big brown bat Darryl from the winter of 2010, who innocently spluttered while Liam and I were feeding him. And because a droplet of his saliva had landed on Liam's cheek, and maybe microdrops had landed on his lip, that constituted a possible exposure. No way around it: Darryl had to be euthanized for testing. (He tested negative for rabies, but still). And it was terrible. And that was a story that I had to tell, too. I started the windup with this post, and then told the whole awful thing in this post. Trust me, those were no fun to write. Neither is this.
I now wear a plastic face shield whenever I handle bats, no matter what. Thanks, Dr. Starship. And of course, I wore gloves to handle the bobkit, but still. If he'd wanted to nail me while I was filming him, he could have.
I'm sorry to have to tell you this, sorry I started a story that I couldn't finish well. But a baby bobcat in a plastic pet carrier was just too much---I had to show him to you. And I decided, firmly, upon learning that he was gone, that I wouldn't--couldn't--tell you that. You were too in love with him, and I didn't want to crush you. I didn't want to have to write this.
But I had a change of heart on June 24, a bright summer day with high puffy clouds and birds singing everywhere.
Halfway down the road, I found these dead-fresh tracks in fine mud. Rear paw, 2 1/8" from top to heel, on the left. Front paw, 2 1/4" top to heel, on right. Adult bobcat, a nice sized one too. That's the second set of bobcat tracks I've found in the same stretch of puddles.
In this close-up you can see the perfect roundness of the pugmarks, the lack of any nail imprint; the grainy texture of the pads and even the fur that grows in between them. Beautiful. Life-affirming. Just here, just now.
As I loped along, there was a sound like someone was throwing handfuls of millet in the weeds along the road. It was extraordinary. I stopped and looked and found that the common plantain was riddled with holes made by flea beetles, and it was the beetles leaping on spring-loaded legs from the plantain leaves that made the millet spray sound.