Monday, January 09, 2006

The Continuing Cat Quest

We went to some friends' house for dinner tonight, and the conversation took an interesting turn...

It seems that several people in the area (one an immediate neighbor, as far as property lines go) have recently seen what they call "a big, black cat." Big. As in "bigger than a dog," "big as a cougar," big.

* Our neighbor's wife was walking her dog when she saw it. She came back and told her husband, who didn't take her seriously.

* However, a few days later, some friends of his who didn't know about the wife's experience, told him about seeing a big black cat run across the road in front of their car.

* Another neighbor -- a hunter who knows the area, and who is familiar with the sounds around here -- was walking his dog on the "back 40" when he heard a strange snarling. Whatever it was ran away from him as well, and made quite a bit of noise when it did so.

All of these instances happened within a mile of where the horse was attacked at the end of November. They may have actually occurred, with more than one witness, but none have been officially documented. No photographs. No prints or casts of prints. No scat. Interesting.

Just for grins and giggles, type in "big, black, cat, cougar" into your favorite search engine and spend some time on the sites that pop up.

It appears that this type of story isn't all that unusual. Lots of people, with nothing to gain by making up a story, will swear that they've seen a large, black, cougar-sized cat. Lots more will respond by pointing out that there is absolutely no hard evidence to support the stories.

Then, every so often, someone will mention an exotic species like a Jaguar or a Jaguarundi, and suggest that the sightings might be an escaped exotic that someone was keeping on the shady side of the law. If you're keeping something that's illegal to own in the first place, chances are you're not going to be in a hurry to sound an official alert if the thing gets away from you (or if it gets to be too much to handle and you set it free).

The "escaped exotic" angle is an interesting, and increasingly plausible, possibility in the Berrien County Cat Caper. It is widely known that several illicit and illegal dog fighting rings operate in the area. Last year, a badly mauled Pit Bull that was used to bait the fighting dogs made the local news when she was rescued by some good Samaritans. Several years ago, a large exotic animal fight club was in existence just across state lines. It, too, featured dog fights. The losers were literally thrown to the lions -- exotic big cats kept onsite to discourage visitors and dispose of the evidence.

According to what I read online, illegally, privately owned lions, tigers, and other big cats are a particular problem in Michigan, where they are used by drug dealers to protect their merchandise. In November, 2002, a dead tiger that had been clubbed to death (there is a special circle in hell for some people...) was found in a field in Detroit. Closer to home, late in October, 1995, a "pet lion" attacked and killed a woman in nearby Allegan, while her 9-year-old daughter watched.

Also interesting is a news story from Feb., 2005, from Winfield, IN (about 90 miles southwest of here). Video and still photography captured images of an extremely large (between 25 and 35 pounds) black cat that raised more questions than it answered. They don't know what it is, but strongly suspect an escaped exotic. Big cats can cover a lot of territory...

Regardless of what attacked the horse in late November, it's quite clear that big cats are in the area. I'm certain that the story is far from over. At the very least, it makes for fascinating dinner conversation.