Big cat on the mountain?

About two weeks ago Leah saw a shaggy dog on Fouche Gap Road. It was gone when I drove down to look, but it soon showed up at our house.

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I thought it looked like an Old English Sheepdog, and a friend who used to have one agreed. We contacted a local animal rescue group who said there should be no trouble getting it to the right place to find it a home. All I had to do was get the dog to a veterinary clinic down in town.

I needed to take our dogs for a walk before I could do that. Unfortunately, Shaggy followed us, and when Zeke saw him, he jerked the leash from my hand and chased the dog down Fouche Gap Road. I was able to call Zeke back (Zeke is getting old), but Shaggy trotted away down towards Texas Valley.

Once I got the dogs back home I drove down to see if I could find him (or her). He was at the bottom of the mountain, trotting purposefully into the valley. I gave him a dog biscuit, which he seemed to enjoy, but he showed no interest in coming back with me. So I left him, hoping he would come back or find a rescuer further down in the valley.

Last Wednesday, the dogs and I came upon a woman parked on Fouche Gap Road, trying to get Shaggy up into the back of her car. We talked at a distance dictated by Zeke’s barkful excitement. She was trying to rescue Shaggy. After some conversation and a call to the rescue group, we arranged for her to transport Shaggy to the vet’s office. She drove away, but came back a short time later. In the meantime, she had called a neighbor, who turned out to be the owner. The owner stopped us on a walk a few days later and told me that Shaggy liked to roam, so not to worry about “rescuing” him.

But wait. What does this have to do with a big cat? Well, as the woman who rescued Shaggy and I were talking, another car stopped. After the rescuer left, the driver pulled over and showed me a picture he said a county police officer texted him, saying that he took it on Fouche Gap.

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It’s a mountain lion.

Early in July there were several reports of mountain lion sightings in the area around Layfayette, which is a little north of us. Despite the fact that the reports came from what a local newspaper called reliable sources, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNE) remains skeptical. According to the DNR, there have been only three credible lion sightings in Georgia in the last 25 years, all related to the Florida panther. (The “mountain lion” is known in the East by several names, including panther, catamount, puma and painter.) The last sighting was in 2008, by a hunter who illegally shot the cat.

The recent cat reports included some people who claimed to have been awakened by a sound like a woman screaming, which some people think is what a mountain lion sounds like. The DNR says that mountain lions make little noise in the woods and when they do, it’s more like a person whistling or a bird chirping. The DNR conveniently included a link to mountain lion sounds in their statement on the local mountain lion sightings.

The DNR says that most sightings are mistaken identification of things like bobcats, which we definitely have here, or dogs, domestic cats or even bears, which we also have here.

But the picture! It sure looks like Fouche Gap Road. Or does it?

I was thrilled and only a little disturbed by the possibility that we had a mountain lion in the neighborhood, but I was a little skeptical, too. When I looked more carefully at the image, I realized that there were several problems with it. For one, the picture was taken from the driver’s side window of a vehicle that was completely off the downhill side of the road. There are only three (four if you stretch it) places on Fouche Gap Road where you can pull off the road on the uphill side, and this one doesn’t look like any of them. The second problem is that the outside rearview mirror doesn’t look like those on cars the county police use. It could, of course, have been taken in an officer’s personal car (actually, a pickup truck).

When the dogs and I got back home, I called the DNR and asked if they had any reports of mountain lion sightings in the Fouche Gap area. They said no, and wanted me to send them the picture, which I did.

Later when Leah and I went down to Los Portales for our usual Wednesday huevos rancheros, I showed the picture to a county officer who happened to be eating lunch there. He was not familiar with it.

During lunch I got an email from the local DNR game management office. One of their people had been emailed an image that looked very much like the one I had.

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So, it was a hoax. Not a big surprise. I’m only slightly disappointed, because I didn’t really expect it to be true. I’m also not surprised that the man who originally showed it to me believed it to be true. Just about everyone ends up believing what they want to believe, so almost no one analyzes things like this critically. That’s what makes these internet hoaxes so effective.

As I emailed back to the DNR, I won’t worry about checking over my shoulder for a mountain lion as I walk the dogs.

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However, I will keep an eye out for Bigfoot.

 

Cats in equilibrium

The cats finally seem to have reached some kind of equilibrium at the new house. They all seem to be reliably around for at least part of the day, usually either early morning or late afternoon.

Smokey is the most consistent, which I think is probably to be expected. He’s not particularly active under any circumstances, so he seems content to hang out around his pen.

The other three cats disappear for hours at a time, but they all seem to end up back somewhere near their pens or the garage. Chloe spends at least part of the night in the garage, which at this point does not have doors and is still full of stored items and construction material. If she’s around, she usually follows me and the dogs down to the street, then climbs up the bank into the woods in front of our house. From there we don’t know where she goes.

Sylvester seems to come and go, but he is not gone enough for us to worry that he won’t be back. Wednesday night he found his old scratching post in the garage and spent some time wallowing where we put catnip.

Dusty is usually absent, but I suspect that he is somewhere in the woods surrounding the house.

Any one of them might go back to the old house, but, wherever they go, they have come back every time.

Our biggest concern is that Smokey and Sylvester will start harassing Dusty and chase him away. On several occasions we have seen Dusty lying peacefully under our trailer, when Smokey will walk up and lie down a couple of feet away, acting innocent. Staring. Staring. We have also caught Sylvester stalking Chloe or Dusty a few times, but have called him down in time to stop it.

Every day is different, but I think the cats are in the process of settling down into their new environment. They had a long time at our old house to find their favorite places to hang out, but only a week or so here.

Unfortunately, some time in the near future (we hope) there will be another big disturbance when we have our driveway paved. There will be one day of grading, which will involve a large bulldozer working on the driveway and in front of the garage. After that, there will be a day or so of putting down forms, which will involve a crew of strangers hammering stakes and generally making a commotion. And then there will be a day of pouring and working the concrete.

No one is going to be happy during the process. At this point we aren’t sure about putting them back in their pens or leaving them out when the workers come to the house.

More cat tales

Our four cats have spent a month confined to two pens after we moved to our new house. We had been advised to keep them inside for up to two months, and Leah’s cousin had given the encouraging opinion that once they were let out, they would disappear forever. But we couldn’t keep all four cats plus five litter boxes inside, and we couldn’t keep them confined to eight-by-eight pens forever. So on Wednesday morning, Leah let Chloe and Dusty out of their pens. And then we went into town to have our usual Wednesday huevos rancheros. We had done a test release Tuesday, and that went well enough. They stayed around, and Leah managed to catch them after a while and put them back into their pen.

On Wednesday, however, they were both gone when Leah got home from lunch. She called and called, but they didn’t show up. She went outside every half hour to check whether they had returned. Just before dark we got a text from the people who bought our old house, along with a photo of Dusty standing on the deck looking through the sliding glass door into their living room. A few minutes later she texted that she had seen Chloe, too.

We rounded up the carriers and some food and drove back to our old house. Chloe met us in the driveway and soon after Dusty came down, too.

Leah put out some food for Dusty and was able to grab him and put him into one of the carriers. Chloe played hard to get. Once she came close enough for Leah to touch her, but before Leah could put down the food tray she was holding, Chloe ran away. Chloe played tag until it was too dark to see, so we had to go back home with only one cat.

Leah was devastated, and, to tell the truth, I was worried. I thought it was the worst thing that could happen, short of having one of them run over. They had found their way back to what they thought of as their home, so why would they come back to the new house? We went to bed thinking we would try to get Chloe Thursday morning, but I was afraid that even if we did, she would go back to the old house, and keep on going back.

So, we woke up Thursday morning – or at least I woke up. Leah was already awake, having spent most of the night worrying. She went into the garage on the way to feed the other cats, and there was Chloe in the driveway, hungry and thirsty.

Chloe and Dusty have been outside all day. It’s getting dark as I write this, and Leah is outside feeding them again.

I think maybe both of them finally figured out what we hoped they would, that the new house is home. Leah hopes they don’t start going back and forth because there’s too much traffic.

Next up, Smokey and Sylvester get their turns.

Almost a month in

We’re still here, as confused as ever. Tuesday night will be four weeks since we moved into our new house. We still don’t have a kitchen, which is every bit as inconvenient as you might imagine. We have four doors, including on the bathrooms. We have no baseboards and no trim on the windows. The yard is bare dirt. This is probably the first time I have thought it just as well to be in a drought; dirt is easier to handle than mud, especially on a dog’s foot. We finally have some rods in our closet so we can take our clothes out of our trailer and hand them up.

We are less than satisfied by some of the work the subs did on the house. The painter was absolutely terrible. He used a sprayer to prime and got overspray all over the hardwood and tile floors and windows. There are globs of trash on the walls that I certainly would have wiped off before calling the job done. The electrician is a nice guy, but we keep having to call him back to fix problems. Some of the work on the deck is also not very professional.

But every night we can look at the twinkling lights of town and see the stars, if they’re out, and every morning we can watch the sun rise, right from our bed. And this was the view Sunday night from our porch.

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This is where the cats have been spending their time.

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Leah and I were both surprised at how well the cats handled the move, and we remain surprised at how well they’re handling their incarceration. Chloe and Dusty are in the pen on the right, and Smokey and Sylvester are on the left. Leah has brought Sylvester, Smokey and Chloe inside separately a few times. Sylvester seems OK and Smokey somewhat less so. Chloe wanders around like a little lost cat and seems to want to go back out to the familiarity of her pen. We opened the door to her pen Sunday morning but she just stared. Dusty didn’t even respond.

It came as no surprised when we noticed a few days ago that someone had stolen the “Slow Cat Crossing” sign we put up near our new mailbox. I guess we’ll order a new one once the cats get parole. I may move our game camera to get a good view of the sign. Maybe we can identify whoever steals it the next time.

There was a happy note a few days ago. I was walking the dogs down Fouche Gap Road and thought I heard a cat. I listened and wasn’t able to convince myself that it was a cat. I thought it might have been a weird call from a bird I wasn’t familiar with. The next day I heard it and eventually saw where it came from. It was a small kitten that had been dumped and was hiding in a hollow in a tree trunk. It came right out and up to me and the dogs. On the way back up, it came out again and followed us to the house where the people who bought from us had been renting. Some workers were repairing various things and they saw the cat. A few hours later Leah and I came back down the mountain on the way to dinner and stopped to leave food and water. One of the workers had given the kitten a piece of ham from his sandwich so it was staying in the back yard.

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The kitten is smaller than it looks here.

The worker ended up taking the kitten home. He told us the next day it had slept on his bed with him that night. It’s too good to be true. Not every animal story has that good an ending.

99

My father would be 99 years old today. It’s hard to comprehend. That’s the kind of span of time that seems appropriate for a history book but not for a personal experience.
I wanted to say a lot more about this anniversary, and maybe I will later, but that’s going to have to be all for now. Leah and I closed the sale of our old house last Wednesday and moved into an unfinished house – no doors, no trim, no kitchen. We worked to move out last Tuesday until the sun was nearly up, and we have been so busy since that I am exhausted. Almost all we own is still packed in boxes around the house and in the garage. I have not found the box we use for internet connectivity, so I am typing this on my iPad at our local IHOP. Once things settle down a little I will be back with more.