A Different Kind of Homelessness

Social Issues

  • Author Doug Smith
  • Published June 10, 2011
  • Word count 1,412

Big Cat Rescue, in Tampa, FL frequently get calls about bobcats who have been hit by cars. It is always a challenge to have the caller properly identify the animal. While every animal life is precious Big Cat Rescue's focus is on saving exotic cats. Once the caller has described the cat sufficiently the Rescuers hit the road with a van full of nets, carriers, humane traps, flashlights, bug spray, blankets and high hopes of bringing the bobcat back alive.

Sometimes though, the cat either cannot be located or even if spotted cannot be caught. That was the case when a call came in on March 29, 2011. When Rescuers and licensed rehabilitator, Jamie Veronica, Gale Ingham and Chris Poole arrived on the scene of an accident that had happened on the exit ramp of Interstate 75 in Tampa the caller returned to the scene to help point them in the right direction.

The cat was no where to be seen, but as the caller relayed what he had seen earlier, the bobcat ran from the woods back into the busy exit ramp. Rescuers ran desperately to corral the badly injured bobcat back off the roadway. Jamie barely missed him with her net and made one last leap after him as he dove into the briars. The thorny underbrush was so thick that she just hung there, trapped in mid flight, but the tears that sprang to her eyes were not because of the thousands of rivulets of blood trickling from her gashes, but because she knows that you usually only get one swipe at netting a wild cat and she had missed this one.

Later on the way home she broke down and sobbed, "I feel like it's all my fault! I should have been faster. I was so startled that he was in the middle of the road and I didn't want him to get hit again. I could see the whole side of his face was caved in, and the blood...I think he lost the eye on one side." The scene played over and over again in her head, but no matter how much it haunted her, there was no way to set the clock back and if she could it would have been much further reset to avoid the initial accident.

More Rescuers arrived on the scene and the search through the thick brambles and palmetto thick forest went on without a glimpse of the bobcat until around 9pm. Chris thought he saw a shimmer of brown fur but it moved quickly past him, leapt up onto a log, and then disappeared completely. The searchers tried to circle around the area, but it was dark and the woods were full of trash. Pieces of plastic and broken bottles reflected back millions of false illusions of eyes. Each had to be investigated to rule out what was garbage from what may be a one eyed cat.

The bobcat was not sighted again and the search party, bleeding from battling briars and mosquitos decided around midnight to call it quits and try again at first light.

The next morning Jamie Veronica and Carole Baskin drove out to the scene as day broke and resumed the search. A humane trap with fresh mice had been set where the bobcat had last been seen, but the hazy morning light revealed that it had not been successful. The stress of having been so close and yet not being able to catch the bobcat on the first try had kept Jamie up all night, but she was determined to find the cat on this morning and get him to a hospital.

Hours passed, and she saw just the slightest hint of brown fur in the thick palmettos but despite all of her skill and practice as a wildlife tracker, she could not get close enough to see if it was a bobcat, or a rabbit, or a rat, or squirrel, or a raccoon. It disappeared instantly and not another sound was heard. The only evidence of life were the discarded clothes and food containers that had belonged to the homeless who live in this small patch of woods.

Those who hate Big Cat Rescue for the work we are doing to end the trade and exploitation of big cats had filed a 22 page false complaint with USDA. The inspectors arrived at the sanctuary to do an investigation so Rescuers lost the rest of the day dealing with the nonsense alleged against them by the bad guys. The end result was another perfect USDA inspection but at the cost of precious hours of daylight. As soon as the investigation was over Rescuers raced back out to the scene of impact and resumed their search, but to no avail.

Thursday Rescuers arrived on the scene early but knew they were only going to have a short time to search as there were ominous clouds blowing in and tornado watches in the area. The humane trap was still empty and even the rats who were left outside of the trap, were untouched. The first night, when the bobcat had tried to re cross the road he may have been heading to a larger patch of woods, that surely held more prey than this abandoned island of trees. It was decided to move the trap into this more densely wooded area.

Off-roading in the rain, Carole recounts, "I noticed several homeless people coming and going and thought I would wait for them to pass before hauling the huge trap out into the dense cover. No sense scaring everyone. It was raining harder and harder though and yet the people kept coming and going, on foot and on broken down bicycles. A woman was working the traffic nearby with a sign that said, "Family In Need." Most of them looked like the life had just been kicked out of them. Most of them plodded along, heads down, trying not to make eye contact. Others who seemed less worn down by their plight found the Big Cat Rescue logos in gold on the side of the black Dodge Hemi, to be of great interest, since it might mean a loose pet tiger in their area.

"I wondered how this bobcat could share space with so many homeless people," Carole pondered. This was the only sizable plot of ground that had any natural foliage and couldn't have been more than about 20 acres. A bobcat needs five square miles of territory to survive but there was no where near that available near here. She must have become very accustomed to seeing people come and go, but they did not seem to know that she shared their plight.

What all of these precious souls had in common is that they have lost their homes. The irony is that the real estate boom that destroyed the bobcat's habitat was also what brought so many people to financial ruin. Either they bought homes they couldn't afford, due to the artificially low interest rates and no down payments, or they were drawn here for the work provided by that unsustainable bubble. Now the bobcats and the people who displaced them find themselves in dire straits. They are tenaciously holding on to what meager existence they can eek out of life while trying their best to keep their independence and dignity intact.

The storms raged on throughout the night dumping four inches of water in many places. The tornados flipped semi trailers on the Interstate and airplanes that had come in for the annual Sun N Fun Fly In. It was painful to think that this injured bobcat and all of these unfortunate people were having to brave this storm. Friday was a day full of clean up at the sanctuary from the storm and getting a cage ready so that Skip the bobcat can be released from the Cat Hospital into a huge outdoor triplex of soft earth and lots of plants. With only a few people available to help there was no hope of finding the injured bobcat and getting him to a vet.

Saturday Chris organized a large search party via Facebook and Jamie assisted by driving them via carpool back to the site. The plan is to have 20 – 25 people surround the area and move in from every direction to herd the bobcat into the center of the small patch of woods. With enough hands, eyes and nets, they hope to bring this one back alive.

Doug Smith

Press Secretary

Big Cat Rescue

12802 Easy Street

Tampa, FL 33625

Copyright BigCatRescue.org 2010

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