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About That Baby Bobcat

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I think in another epoch, I'd have been sitting around a fire, telling stories. I'd keep all those cavepeople coming back night after night for a nice installment of How I Outsmarted the Cave Bear and Lived to Tell the Tale. I'd earn my piece of roast beast, giving them something to think about, a nice bedtime story.

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.

To reward myself for finishing my book read, I went for a 7.6 mile run/lope/amble down Dean's Fork that day.

 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.

I started thinking then about telling you what really happened.  I knew you'd ask, and I didn't know what I'd say. "No news?" "Haven't heard?" 
How long could I hold you all off? Would you forget about that bobkit? No way. You'd be asking along about late summer.

You're going to get the truth out of me here. You always have, even if it's painful.

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.

And I thought, isn't that remarkable, that this plant is getting devoured, and that there are enough flea beetles to make noticeable noise all the way down the road! I'm sure it sucks for the plantain, but it was pretty cool for me.

Life is beautiful, even when it sucks.

Dean's Fork teaches me that. I saw so many incredible things this day--baby birds everywhere, learning how to forage--and I just drank it all in, and I felt so good, knowing that there are these wild places all around where things like this go on whether we're there to notice them or not.

I got all the way down to the end of Dean's Fork, and I was almost four miles from home. A rose-breasted grosbeak sang over a cerulean warbler, also singing. Breeding, both of them, north meets south. Fantastic. 

And I looked down and was reading the silt for more tracks when I found this one.

Bobcat. Another bobcat! But wait--only three toes on the foot?? No. There was a little green pebble sticking up, and that pebble was enough to keep the cat's inner toe from hitting the ground. 

Which along with the small size of the track, told me that this was a lighter-weight, smallish animal. I found a nice double set about a foot away, from the same series. Measured, the track was 1 3/4" from top to bottom. Too large for a housecat, which would be 1 1/8" top to bottom. 

Smallish female, maybe, or maybe a baby bobcat. 

And I realized, gazing at this track set, a smile spreading across my face, that I need to take a longer view on this tragic tale of a rescue gone wrong. And that long view is that there are lots of bobcats in Ohio now, probably more bobcats than have been here since pre-colonial times. Because there is lots more forest than there's been since then. The forest has come back, and people aren't persecuting bobcats any more, so they've come back too.

I've said it before: Wildlife rehabilitation is for people. The odd bobcat or brown thrasher that we manage to save; the fawn we bottle-raise; the squirrel we scoop up mean virtually nothing on a population level. Unless you're talking about saving the life of one of the world's 603 (as of February 2015) whooping cranes,  and putting it back into the breeding population, you really aren't making an impact one way or the other on these more abundant species by saving one here and there.

You are making an impact on the life of that one animal, on your life, and the lives of the people who get involved in helping it make it back to the wild. When you tell its story, you get people involved and caring. And we very much need to care about other life forms, to empathize and show them mercy and kindness. That's what makes us human, and that's what elevates us from animal, vegetable or mineral--that ability to give a hoot about some poor helpless creature, to stop what we're doing and try to help it.

The bigger story here is that there are enough bobcats that we're starting to see them hit on the highways (saw my first just north of Exit 6 on I-77 near Marietta this spring!). This may sound odd, but I was happy and excited to see that, because it means there are enough bobcats around for that to happen.

There are enough bobcats around that I found tracks from two different animals, one likely a juvenile, on Dean's Fork in one morning. And as the raincrow flies, that's a couple miles from my house.

There are enough bobcats around that a juvenile left a poo in my driveway for me to find as I returned from that same walk that same morning. So make that fresh stanky sign from a third bobcat in the same morning!

Perhaps it was the child of this beautiful female who immortalized herself at the same spot in our driveway on July 8, 2014.

photo by Corey Husic's Bushnell Trailcam.

They walk among us, on midsummer mornings. 

There are enough bobcats around that a kitten ended up stuck in a drainpipe in my friends' yard. 

There are enough bobcats around that he found his way to my loving, gloved hands. 

And for that I am deeply thankful. 

Hodge is one of my dearest friends. She has two wonderful housecats, Java and Star. So Hodge was among the first I sent a photo to when I came by the bobkitten. And she was among the first I told when I learned he wouldn't be returning to Indigo Hill to grace our woods.

Here's what she wrote back to me. 

Oh oh oh oh.  Oh, why, oh why?

Okay. Don't go there.  The whys are useless in this case.  

By which I mean, please release all notions out of your conscience that your putting that mouse for the road in the carrier was how this happened.  Not Your Fault, no way.  

You gave him three square meals and a safe place to land.  You made him purr.  You own that forever.  Somewhere in bobcat heaven there's a kit who knew there was a you, and that's a good thing.  

Landing the Shark: Artwork Scam Part Four

Sunday, June 28, 2015

                        Apologies to this beautiful blue predator of the deep for using his image.

It's getting real now. I've got "Julia Simpson" on the hook and she's fighting hard. I've stalled Scammy for a week, making him think I'm dumb enough to send both the painting and a huge refund check in the same package, without waiting for his bogus $1835 check to clear.  It's Saturday afternoon, April 5. I'm going to cut and paste my notes from that day.

April 5, 2014: About 3 pm. I get a call. I can hear a man’s voice say Hello? in a foreign accent. It’s tinny and distant. Liam answers at the same time. We both ask, “Hello?” and the man hangs up. He wasn’t figuring on getting two people. About 20 minutes later he calls again.

“Julie?” he asks. It sounds like “Zhulleh.” Again the accent, the tinny, distant, echoey sound. He sounds like he’s calling from the bottom of a well in Timbuktu.


“This is Julia Simpson’s husband. I want to know if you send the painting.”

Hmmm. What an odd way to introduce oneself, without using your own name. A chill goes down my guts to my feet. I don’t say anything for a moment.

“How did you get my phone number? Oh, right. I gave it to you. Hey. What’s your
phone number?”

He mumbles something like, “You do not need this phone number I am calling from, it is different phone.”

I can’t place the accent, but it’s heavy. Maybe Middle Eastern. Maybe even Russian. His voice is deep and very dark.

“Wow,” I say, stalling a bit. I put on an air of innocence, but at the same time drench my voice in sarcasm. “You sound like you’re in a foreign country. Very far away!”

“Did you send the painting?”

Oh you creep. At that moment anger explodes in little fireworks behind my eyes. I hate what he does for his miserable living, hate that he exploits people who can’t afford to be robbed, hate that he’s been posing as “Julia Simpson;” hate that he’s been so bold as to invade my home with his greed, his desire to get something for nothing, and try to rob me on top of it. I hate his icky voice. I want to smash him like a roach.

“How stupid do you think I am?” I hiss.

“Very very,” he snaps. It sounds like, "Beddy beddy."

“Really. Very very stupid,” I reply. I'm winding up to give him both barrels. I'm going to tell him he's a scum-sucking parasite who preys on innocent people, no better than an engorged, stinking tick on life.

There’s a rustle and a click. He knows I’ve nailed him, and hangs up on me, a coward through and through.  I hold the phone and stare at it as if he might reach out of it and grab my throat.

My heart is beating out of my chest. I am completely creeped out that he’s called me at home from whatever rathole he lives in, in whatever country he inhabits. It takes me awhile to compose myself and start to laugh. I realize that, in a way, I’ve won this sick game he’s playing. I’ve wasted almost a month of his time, stringing him along with emails that gave him almost what he was after, but not quite. That make him think he had me dead to rights. And then I’d slip out of his grasp again. I’ve won because I’ve figured out two of his modus operandi, and that’s armed me for any future approaches from shady art buyers. I can share my experiences here, and warn other innocent online vendors what kinds of snakes slither through the long, tangled cyberspace grass. I’ve won because I’ve learned something and lost not a cent doing it. I’ve gotten his hopes up, kept them high with my dopey friendly rube act, and when I could no longer keep the ruse up, finally and completely dashed them. He thought he’d get a painting, which he’d probably simply throw away, and $1415 out of my bank account. He got bupkis.

As long as he doesn’t call me in the middle of the night, I’m good. Whyyy did I give him my phone number?? OK, he pinked me.

--end of journal notes--

It's June, 2015, and I haven't gotten any calls from Spammy. In the interim, I have gotten several inquiries, all from overseas, wanting to talk with me about purchasing paintings. And I've ignored them.

In the end, "Julia Simpson" did me a favor, and that's a favor I'm passing on to you. Don't take any wooden nickels. 

Scamming the Scammer Part III

Thursday, June 25, 2015

                                  Sorry, blacktip. You're a much better citizen than Scammy.

So I'm playing "Julia Simpson," the online scambag, making "her" think I'm about to send off both my painting and a refund check. She's got to be thinking she's hit the jackpot. Though I have my doubts as to whether she has the slightest appreciation for bird paintings; this scammer would probably throw out the painting and cash the check. I warm up my tone a bit with the signoff. I can't wait to see what she'll say when she hears I've deposited the check prior to sending the painting.

On 4/1/14, Julie Zickefoose wrote:
Dear Julia,

I've just returned from town where I had a million errands to do. I
didn't have time to talk to my banker but I did deposit your check for
$3,250.00. I have pulled the painting from my archives and am packing it up
today. Is it all right if I enclose a check for the refund amount in the package
with the painting and send the whole thing, painting and check, to the 1826
W.23d St. address, Miami Beach?

Excited for you to have this painting. It's one of my favorites.



Note the date. Heh. Julia gets RIGHT back to me. 

On Apr 1, 2014, at 8:55 PM, Julia Simpson wrote:

Hi Julie,
Good to hear back from you and thanks for the update.I am so excited
and can't wait to have the painting on my wall. Meanwhile,  I spoke
with my husband and he will like you to send the refund via via (
Western Union ) money in minutes service back to his Assistant at the
address below.

Name : Eric Medina
Address: 936 Avenida Del Vista,
            Corona, Ca 92882

I was able to find some Western Union locations near you ,where you
can easily transfer the funds. See below.

703 Pike St
Marietta, OH 45750-3502

128 Gross St
Marietta, OH 45750-2031

40 Acme St
Marietta, OH 45750-3306

KMART #7477
502 Pike Street
Marietta, OH 45750

You don't need to have an account,swift codes or any bank codes but
you will have to pay Western Union fees which you can deduct from the
difference.  I will like you to get back with the following
information as soon as you are back from the Western Union office.

1.  Name and address of sender.
2.  Total Amount sent after deducting transfer charges.
3.  Money Transfer Control Number ( MTCN)

I deeply regret any inconvenience but i will like you to handle this
as soon as possible. Thanks and I'll await your response.


 I'm cackling now. Gotcha, Julia Simpson! I'ma make you wait a day or so before I get back to you. 

On 4/2/14, Julie Zickefoose  wrote:
Dear Julia,

Thank you for supplying me with the wire transfer locations.
I have a friend visiting today (she arrived last night) and we'll be
busy here so I won't be able to get into town today. I have to go into town
to send the painting so I'll just wait and do all this the next time I can get there. 

 It's all packed up and ready to go. Sorry to make you wait! but
life intervenes.  I'll get to it as soon as I can.

Best wishes,


I can smell the nervous sweat all the way from Dubai, or wherever you are. BTW, your English is falling apart. 

On Apr 2, 2014, at 6:53 PM, Julia Simpson wrote:

Hi Julie,
I got your email this morning and I will really appreciate if you can
go to town tomorrow morning and ship the painting and take care of the
wire transfer.  Try and keep me updates as soon as possible.

Best ,

I let out some more line for the thrashing shark. Can't resist a smiley face at the bottom. Still friends, right?? I let Julia stew for three more days. 

On 4/2/14, Julie Zickefoose  wrote:
Dear Julia,

Well, it won't happen tomorrow morning, because I have to prepare a
talk, pack the car then drive 2 1/2 hours to deliver it.
Realistically, it'll be Friday at the earliest. Spring is my busy time.


At this point Scammy is probably thinking he's never going to get his money or the painting, because the bank will have notified me that his check is bogus by now. So I throw out a little more chum. 

April 5, 2014 7:55:49 AM EDT (Saturday)

Dear Julia,

 Good news! I am on my way to town this morning with the painting. I plan to ship it, get the cost of shipping, subtract that from the $3450, then go to one of the wire locations you supplied and wire you the difference. I am so sorry it has taken me this long to get around to it, but I was so tired yesterday after my long drive I couldn't make the detour into town. But soon you will have both the painting and the money. 

Very best, and thanks for your patience,


Scammy's waiting for that wire transfer. He waits all day. Finally he can't stand it any longer and emails me after 5 pm.
April 5, 2014 5:15:22 PM EDT, Julia Simpson wrote:

Any updates ?  Try and get back as soon as possible. Thanks.

 I don't answer right away.  What happens next takes me completely by surprise...yiiikes. 

Art Scam Part II: Playing the Shark

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


When we last left Zick, she was in receipt of a monstrous check of dubious value and origin, in payment for a painting that had yet to be shipped. "Julia Simpson" has made out to me, but for almost twice the amount I was asking.

Dear Julia,

  I have a check here from First Tennessee Bank/ Transnetyx Inc. I'm assuming it's from you. 

 It's made out to me, for the amount of $3,250.00. Which is considerably more than I am asking ($1,835.00). What's going on? 

Holding it until I understand.   Best, Julie

On Mar 28, 2014, at 7:54 PM, Julia Simpson wrote:
Hi Julie,
I got your email now. Thanks for the update. I am so excited you have
received the payment and can't wait to have the painting on my wall. I
hope to give it a very good home and enjoy the piece for many years.

Regarding the check , my husband made a terrible mistake and overpaid
you  because he didn't have full details of the transaction since  I
was too busy when he sent it. I am very sorry for the confusion but I
will like you to go ahead and deposit the check,  you can then deduct
the cost of painting plus shipping to my address below. Then you can
forward the difference back to him.

1826 W 23 St
Miami Beach, FL 33140

Kindly acknowledge this email as soon as you can. Thanks.

Best Regards,

Ah. Now we have an address. I'm thinking, "Hmm. If I deposit the check, and it clears, why would "Julia" trust me to send back $1415 that I could so easily keep?" Talk about a "terrible mistake." I decide to deposit the check and wait for it to clear before doing anything. Definitely not boxing up the painting. So I stall a bit. And give "Julia" a hint that I may not be as dumb as I sound. I want Spammy to squirm for a little while. While I'm at it I punch the Miami address into Google Earth. A white stucco building obscured by palm trees comes up. Whether it's "Julia's" new house or not is anybody's guess.  These cockroaches hide in any crack or crevice.

Dear Julia,                                    March 28 2014

  Whoa. That's a big mistake. It makes me uncomfortable to deposit the $3,250 and then issue a refund. I'll talk to my banker about it when I can get into town--it won't be this weekend, but perhaps Monday. Hang tight. And thank you for the full address.



So I go into town and show the check to a manager at my bank. He told me it's clearly a bogus document, and that this is a common scam--overpayment and request for a hefty refund. He said there's never a way to track the scammer, and it's not worth trying. Everything he says confirms my suspicion that I'm being played. So I let it go a few days, then give "Julia" hope that I've fallen for her scam in the biggest possible way.

On 4/1/14, Julie Zickefoose wrote:

Dear Julia,

I've just returned from town where I had a million errands to do. I
didn't have time to talk to my banker but I did deposit your check for
$3,250.00. I have pulled the painting from my archives and am packing it up
today. Is it all right if I enclose a check for the refund amount in the package
with the painting and send the whole thing, painting and check, to the 1826
W.23d St. address, Miami Beach?

Excited for you to have this painting. It's one of my favorites.



 I decide to keep playing "Julia." Wasting "her" time and in the process, learning about how these scumsuckers operate. I start lying right back. I tell her I've deposited the check. And I try to make Scammy think I'm dumb enough to send the painting before her check clears. The clock's ticking now, because there's no way it will clear.

This should be interesting.  To be continued...

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