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June 6, 2009  
Photo of Kevin Mack.

Nine Lives
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

Picture of bobcat
Bobcat 08-2398 was in a comatose state for several days. This is how she appeared shortly after regaining consciousness.

On October 1, 2008, a five-pound cat was walking alone along State Route 9 in Clear Lake, WA. Any cat walking close to a highway is in danger, and this one was no exception, but an even greater danger for her had begun many days before when she became separated from her mother. Too young to capture food for herself, she had been slowly wasting away in her mother's absence. Her time was running out, but her luck was about to change. A concerned citizen saw the cat, and could tell by the animal's ear tufts, spotted coat and stubby tail that she was no house cat. She was a young Bobcat, and she was clearly in need of help.

The Bobcat was so weak from hunger that the woman who found her was able to capture her easily. She then called Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on San Juan Island, and volunteer Ann Tanner, who is a former PAWS wildlife volunteer, was dispatched to pick up the cat. Wolf Hollow and the PAWS Wildlife Center frequently transfer or refer animals to one another depending on each center's current patient load and caging availability. In this case Wolf Hollow contacted PAWS to see if we would be able to accept and care for the young Bobcat. We agreed, and Ann drove the Bobcat to PAWS. On admission she was assigned the case number 08-2398.

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Seven months later Bobcat 08-2398 is a healthy, subadult cat.

During her initial exam, Bobcat 08-2398 was found to be anemic, emaciated and severely depressed. She also had a single, deep laceration on the right side of her chin. She was scheduled to have the laceration surgically repaired, but otherwise it looked like food, water and a little time would be all she needed to return to full health. This opinion was reinforced over the next several days as the Bobcat ate well and began to regain her strength. On October 6 she was anesthetized and her laceration was sutured. Her body condition had improved and all seemed to be going well. Five days later, everything changed.

On October 11, PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitator Nicki Rosenhagen went to check on the Bobcat and saw her stumble around in her enclosure and then collapse. The cat was rushed inside the wildlife center and started on IV fluids. She had also begun to seizure, so she was given medications to alleviate the convulsions. Blood was drawn for diagnostic work and the Bobcat's white blood cell count was found to be elevated. The cause of her sudden decline was believed to be encephalitis, most likely due to a bacterial infection. She was started on intravenous antibiotics, and she continued to receive fluids and anticonvulsant therapy.

Picture of bobcat
Bobcat 08-2398 quadrupled in weight during her stay at PAWS.

The Bobcat remained in a comatose state for several days. On October 15, she started to show increased awareness of her surroundings, and her seizures stopped. By October 17, the Bobcat was standing and walking. She was responsive to sounds and to touch, but did not have a strong response to visual stimuli. She had begun to eat on her own again and her IV catheter was removed. She showed steady improvement over the course of the following week, and by October 24 she was bright, alert and behaving normally. The laceration on her chin had fully healed and the infection had been cleared from her system. She may have used up one of her nine lives, but the bobcat's health was now restored. She ate well and gained strength with each passing day.

The rest of the Bobcat's stay at PAWS was, thankfully, uneventful. She spent over half a year in our care growing into a beautiful subadult wild cat. She was housed in two adjoining cages with a metal slide door between them. This allowed PAWS staff to close her off in one section of the cage while they cleaned and placed food in the other. Limiting her exposure to humans was critical for preventing her from habituating to their presence. When it came time to release her, a healthy fear of humans would be the most important factor in her continued health and well-being. It was clear that she had gained no appreciation for humans during her stay when we entered her enclosure to place her in a transport container for release.

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Bobcat 08-2398 exits her carrier at her release.

Release day for Bobcat 08-2398 came on May 21. Although she fought, literally, tooth and nail to avoid being placed in her transport carrier, she remained still during the two-hour drive to her remote release site in the Cascade foothills. The release carrier was placed in a small grassy area surrounded by thousands of acres of forest. A stream flowed nearby. When the carrier door was opened the Bobcat tentatively poked her head out to see her new surroundings. She made a short run toward the trees in front of her, but then doubled back, crouching low and sniffing, toward a thicket of Salmonberry. She briefly entered the Salmonberry and paused to peer out at the small group that had gathered to watch her regain her freedom. She blended so perfectly with the browns and blacks in the shadows under the bushes that it was clear this was the world in which she belonged. Her nose and ears twitched. I knew she was sensing far more than I was able to perceive.

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The Bobcat investigates her surroundings at her release.

After observing from the bushes for a few minutes, the Bobcat emerged and slunk over to a patch of grass. She started to eat the grass and I began to think that she might have been feeling a little carsick after her long ride in the back of a truck. It was time to take the human element out of the equation and leave her to readjust to her new-found freedom without having to worry about our presence. The story that began with one concerned person walking toward an emaciated five-pound Bobcat next to the highway, ended with seven happy people walking away from a healthy 20-pound Bobcat sitting in the sun in a forest clearing.



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