Background Switcher (Hidden)

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.  


Thank you for sharing this, Julie. This is something that we must all face, sooner or later: that life and death are two sides of the same coin. Everything and everyone will die someday. It is only a question of when. The fact that Life abounds at Indigo Hill (as it does on a smaller scale, at Manderly) means that Death also abounds. It is inescapable. You can not select for one over the other; they are a package deal. It is something I periodically have to come to terms with myself. Yes, it is sad what happened with the bobkit. But Bobcat as a species is still around, and the Universe sent you a message to that effect by showing you all the traces of Bobcat around you.

Thank you for treating us like grown-ups. And I hope that you have found peace with this.

Posted by Anonymous June 30, 2015 at 4:16 AM

So sorry to hear, as all your readers will be. For so many of us the 'big picture' is hard to see when there is an individual to focus on.
I actually had a bit of ill feeling in the pit of my stomach when you originally wrote of turning the little fellow over to proper authorities -- not because I foresaw this particular outcome, but just because I believe it is SO stressful for a young animal, just getting its footing in life, to suddenly be forced to travel and adapt to new human handling.
Anyway, thanks for giving us the details, and in some ways it's even good to be reminded that your life isn't the idyllic bliss it occasionally appears on a computer screen.

Oh, dear. Nothing much to say--just feeling sad even though I resonate with your total point. Life is precious--from top of any food chain to the bottom. From bacterium to plant to animal (and any other types along the way I omitted).
Working to preserve another creature's life is part of our way of preserving ourselves.

Death is happening all around us and is part of life. The little bobcat dying hurts because we knew him/her personally. Thank you for trying your best to save this little creature and for sharing the story.

I appreciate that you are taking the long view, but this hurts.

Oh Julie. My hearts breaks with yours. Such a beautifully written truth. Thank you for sharing. ((((Julie))))

This comment has been removed by the author.

Thanks for sharing though the outcome is not what any of us wanted--this is real-life, and we'd better be ready for it--like it or not, here it comes!!! The important thing is that, like you said, the human instinct of trying to bring the story to a happy ending separated us from the other. I'm with you all the way, even if there's pain and loss in the end. So happy you're getting all the signs of Bobcats who are making it a better world out there.

Oh the heartbreak of caring and good intentions.
Oh the heartbreak of caring and doing nothing.
Both better than the peace that comes of not knowing or not caring to know.

Posted by Gail Spratley June 30, 2015 at 9:40 AM

Thank you for taking the time to write all that you did about the end of Bobkit's life and about life in general. What brings me peace about this story is that Bobkit didn't die in that pipe he was stuck in. A much more painful, lonely death. I think being euthanized was a gift for the little guy. And along the way of his short life he got to meet you. Another gift.

Julie, I feel so for you as I had nearly the exact same thing happen many years ago when I adopted a baby raccoon. At that time rehabilitators weren't so organized and regs about raccoons much looser and frankly, I let myself fall in love with Mischief. Had her for a few months, turned her over to a friend who was caretaker at a camp near Danville. He wintered her through and released her in the spring. Another raccoon had been hanging around and we thought they would just disappear together. While I was at the camp doing pre-camp counselor training, Mischief showed up - ti was definitely her - and while we were getting joyfully reacquainted, she nipped another counselor who tried to pet her.. I had to catch her and turn her over to the wildlife guy. Hardest thing I've ever done, leading her up to him, but it had to be done. I wept for days.
Hang in there, it sucks but you will get through it. You do so much good for nature,surely the small bits of bad that creep in are outweighed.

Sarah Dalton

I learned, from a somewhat similar hard experience, to NEVER call the DNR about anything other than general information. Wildlife that is brought to them is killed immediately, 90+% of the time. How they can be so cold, I will never understand.

I was a raptor rehabber (when we had enough land in a rural area)and I also did some bat pick-ups, before the rules were changed, requiring vaccination.So I know the horrible, sick feeling of losing something that way.
But I thank you for trying and for telling the story.

Before I even started reading this post, just knowing you'd written it made my heart a little less heavy over what happened to that bobcat kit. Being the bearer of bad news is never fun, but we're a wiser readership, dear Julie, when you give us the whole story, warts and all. I love how thoroughly you've thought this through, and how you can share the whole of your mental meanderings to get to a hopeful place. We all could use a hopeful place in this world...

I'm honored to be part of this post. I meant it. There's a bobcat heaven with a little kit up there saying, "Honest to god, she fed me mice and combed out my rats nests! It was AMAZING!!!"

XOXOX hodge, aka KHMacomber

Julie, Thank you for the wonderful way you told us the horrible news. I totally understand your reservations about calling the DNR, I too was worried when you told us you had called them. I know that this one bobcat will not have any effect on the bobcat population but all of your readers were attached and the fact that one person wanting the perfect picture caused the little guys demise is hard to take. He was a wild creature and she should have known that he wouldn't take to having someone mess with his food.
I enjoy your blog whether the stories are joyful or not. Lori, Marietta

Posted by Anonymous June 30, 2015 at 3:15 PM

Dave told me about this and I thought I would not read your post. I was angry at the photographer. I was angry about the stupid action that cost an innocent creature its life. But then skimming through FB, I saw your post, and opened it in a new tab, but hobbled away (being on crutches still and all). But I came back and here I am tearing up and writing a comment. Because your are such a gentle caring soul, a person that has so much love for all living things that a beautiful family is not enough, you take in the lost, the wounded, the little ones who mistakenly end up where they should not. You understand why rehabbing and restoration is important -- that it heals the wounds of people more than of what is actually being taken care of. And you can write a story than pulls us in like no other. And make us laugh and cry and want to send hugs. And for all that, I thank you dear friend.

Awesome story. You are always worth reading! Thanks for sharing the 'big picture'.

I've been thinking about this all day. Here in Illinois both houses of the legislature recently passed a Bobcat hunting bill. It is waiting for the Governer to sign it, and he probably will. There has been a lot of activity to protest it. No reason to hunt Bobcats. I'm out a lot and I've never even seen a Bobcat. They have recovered more in Southern Illinois, but not enough for hunting, which I think would just be trophy hunting.

I can only cry now. And curse ODNR. You could have had a better outcome and you know it, but you followed the rules. Damn the rules. Love your heart and instinct. I grieve with you and respect your decisions. No easy choices.

Thank you, friend. This was a hard story to tell, and a hard story to read. But those new tracks and the poo make it a little easier. And the Bacon in the pics--he makes it easier too. Be careful out there.

I'm in tears....

Bobkit knew you loved him. That counts for a lot.

Julie, thinking about this a little more, I want to tell you that I'm so touched by the fact that though you've worked with nature so much, and have no doubt had many heartbreaking experiences throughout the years, you have not become hardened by the sometimes disappointing endings, but you are still sometimes reduced to tears by it. I'm glad you can care so much.

Thanks for sharing the rest of the story -- hopefully folks who've read have learned some important lessons that will benefit future orphans -- most importantly to lose sight of their wildness.

I am so sorry to read of the demise of your bob kit. We have seen adult bob cats at our pond, about 35 feet from our kitchen window and they are gorgeous. As a photographer, I feel a need to atone for the dodo who tried to take away the mouse. I hope people will read your post and never do something like themselves.

And now I'm absolutely squalling on this beautiful Fourth of July day. You do make a difference by bringing these creatures into our lives. I thank God for bobcats and all the other magnificent creatures so wonderful. And I thank God for you.

Your friend's words to you at the end of your post are both wise and kind. How heart breaking to have this little guy die, but like she said, there is a bob kit up in heaven who knows your intent. Bobcats are one of my favorite animals, I have always liked predators, whether owls or wolves or ... Bless you for your efforts to save the little one.

when I started reading this, I thought you were going to find the cat dead on the road, run over by a car, so I do not know why this is worse but it is. :( everything gets run over by cars, but it takes a special animal to be euthanized.

[Back to Top]