Saturday, January 09, 2010

Arizona: Bobcat wasn't rabid, but witnesses say it still was dangerous

By Joanna Dodder Nellans, The Daily Courier

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

PRESCOTT - A lab test concluded that a bobcat that Prescott police shot and killed here Dec. 30 was not rabid.

The animal might have had distemper, said Jeff Pebworth, regional wildlife program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Or someone might have been feeding it so it had lost its fear of humans.

Judging by the extremely odd behavior of a bobcat spotted a day earlier that likely was the same animal, officials believe the bobcat was a clear danger to the public.

Cable One employee Ernie Ortega said he was driving north on Prescott Lakes Parkway near Willow Lake Road Dec. 29 when he saw a bobcat crouch down and act like it was going to pounce on another vehicle traveling the opposite direction.

The bobcat even had one of its front paws in the air like it was going to swat the car.

"I knew that cat wasn't right," Ortega said.

The other car swerved away from the bobcat, and then the cat came racing toward Ortega's work truck. Figuring it had to be rabid, he tried to hit it but it got away and ran into a ditch along the road next to a Prescott Lakes subdivision apartment complex.

Ortega noticed a woman walking nearby, so he pulled over to warn her about the bobcat and ended up escorting her to her apartment.

Ortega then called police and, fearing children might be around, he waited around until an animal control officer arrived.

"If it was going to chase cars, no telling who it would chase," Ortega said. "It was pretty bizarre."

Ortega decided to wait in the safety of his vehicle. He was well aware of the danger, since he had read about numerous recent attacks by rabid bobcats and foxes on humans in Yavapai County. One victim was in fact his niece's stepmother, Lisa Montonati. A bobcat came after Montonati, her daughters and their friend while they were walking along a riparian trail in Prescott Valley in April 2009.

While the bobcat he saw turned out not to be rabid, Ortega believes it was quite dangerous. And he thinks it was the same bobcat that officers shot and killed Dec. 31 in the same area, judging by the Daily Courier photos of the cat.

An animal control officer searched the area until dark on Dec. 30 but couldn't find the bobcat.

Animal control notified Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Officer Scott Poppenberger about the incident the next morning, and Poppenberger then notified Prescott police.

All of them headed to the area that morning, and Prescott police quickly located and shot a bobcat just across Prescott Lakes Parkway from the previous sighting.

"She walked toward us and stopped, and just stood there staring at us," Prescott Sgt. Tim Fletcher told The Daily Courier shortly after officers shot the bobcat. "She never ran and didn't act like she was healthy. She just stood there."

The cat eventually walked to an undeveloped area behind The Daily Courier newspaper office. Police and animal control officers followed the cat and found her sitting near a tree.

Fletcher said that he decided to shoot the cat because it showed abnormal behavior by roaming in daylight, it didn't show fear of humans, and it appeared sickly. Officer Jeremy Brazell got within 15 yards of the cat and killed it with one shot from an AR-15 rifle.


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