February 03, 2004

They're Called 'Wild' For A Reason

We had our own When Animals Attack moment in the Fort this weekend:

Fort Wayne police, after a four-hour search, shot and killed a cougar that had gotten loose in northeast Fort Wayne on Saturday night. Sampson, a tan-colored, 4-year-old cougar, belonged to Gary Dutcher of Allen County, and escaped from his car when it slid off Stellhorn Road near Lahmeyer Road just before 7 p.m., police and state conservation officers said.

The search ended just north of Stellhorn Road about 11 p.m.

The cougar was hiding in the bushes of a residence. A Fort Wayne animal control officer fired several shots from a tranquilizer gun and the cat became agitated and tried to jump on a police officer.

Police then fired two shotgun rounds, killing the cat, police spokesman Tom Rhoades said.
Apparently Dutcher was on his way home from a vet checkup for the cougar when he put his car in the ditch. As he got out of his car, the cougar -- who was not caged or otherwise restrained -- escaped (different story in the next day's paper):
The animal was not in a cage and, even though mildly sedated, ran from the car and was found about four hours later hiding in the bushes near the Hupe Insurance Services, 7011 Stellhorn Road. To protect the public, members of Fort Wayne's Emergency Services Team surrounded the area. An animal control officer fired two tranquilizer darts into Sampson, but police said they were forced to shoot and kill the cat when it began running south toward some homes.
Interestingly, the print edition of that day's paper said the cougar attacked a police officer.
No one was injured. Dutcher, who could not be reached for comment, was cited for causing a public nuisance - which carries a fine of up to $2,500, according to Belinda Lewis, the city's director of animal control. Lewis said it is unclear whether the law required Sampson to be caged during transport, but she said a cage should have been used and had been requested by the veterinarian.
Where the hell's my clue-by-four when I really need it?
  • Use a cage. Repeat: USE. A. CAGE!
  • So a cage that big won't fit in a Camaro. Dude doesn't have a pickup truck?
  • If it was a routine checkup, why make the trip in crappy weather (granted, it was only a mile or two if he was going where I think he was)?
Dutcher and the local authorities will cross paths again on this issue, and Dutcher will most likely lose:
Dutcher has been keeping wild cats for about six years, and last year had two mountain lions and three servals, or African wildcats. Lewis said the servals were kept in cages in the garage while the mountain lions - Sampson and a female, Delilah, were in backyard cages surrounded by barbed wire and an electric privacy fence. Sampson had been declawed.

Even though Dutcher has a federal permit to keep and exhibit his cats, Dutcher might have to give them up or move when his home in the 8300 block of Chapel Bend Drive is annexed into the city next year. City ordinance prevents residents from keeping exotic or dangerous wild animals.

Some of Dutcher's Stillwater Place neighbors began objecting to his cats as far back as 1999, complaining about the odor and worrying what might happen should one of them get loose.

Dutcher, a member of the Midwest Exotic Feline Education Association, told The News-Sentinel in 1999 he and other members keep big cats to protect species that are becoming increasingly rare. "They're like children to me," he said. "We take very good care of them. I've gone to every length to make sure everything here is safe. You've got to know how to handle them."
I hear this and I think of Timothy Treadwell and Aime Hugenard saying Alaskan brown bears are mostly harmless "party animals" a year and a half before getting mauled to death by one.

Update: bigcatrescue.org has a page documenting incidents involving captive cats. Verrrrrry interesting.

Posted by Chris at February 3, 2004 03:52 PM

Category: Local Stuff

I love the claim that the animal was captive bred, so it didn't pose as much of a threat as a wild bread animal would have. A pissed off cougar don't care where he was born! :-) This whole thing went down not too far from where I (and my two small kids) live, and it's a little freaky thinking that I could come across a cougar as I am heading out to my car. I do feel bad that they had to shoot the animal due to his owner being an idiot!! While I have some issues with the city's exotic animal ordinance, if it keeps my neighborhood cougar free, I'll live with it. :-)

Posted by: 2!3054). at February 3, 2004 10:09 PM

I can see the courtroom now.

Bailiff: "First witness for the defense, Mr. Siegfried Fischbacher, of Las Vegas, Nevada...do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"

Siegfried: "Ze kitty was just PLAYING vit Roy... ve are not kay luffers."

Y'know, I'm not one to stamp on anyone's freedom to keep animals as pets... but come on, knucklehead!

Posted by: chess at February 4, 2004 09:25 PM

I heard (and am trying to confirm) that the vet refused to do the checkup because Dutcher didn't have it in a cage.

Posted by: Chris at February 4, 2004 10:37 PM