For Bobbi

It has been three years and five homes since the Oklahoma Dept. of Conservation brought Bobbi the bobcat to me. By the time I got her, Bobbi had already been through alot. Born in the wild, she barely knew her first home with her mother, because some poachers shot the mother and stole her before her eyes had opened. Then she'd had the first joints of her front toes amputated (declawing) by her kidnappers when she was still a baby, rendering her unable to survive in the wild. The poachers who orphaned her gave her the second "home" in her young life, one the DOC confiscated her from. She'd had her third home, then, with a DOC secretary, but came to me when that secretary had to move back into the city and couldn't keep her. Thus I became her fourth family in 6 months.

When she stepped out of the crate Warden Tim Campbell brought her to me in, it took Bobbi all of about 2 minutes to decide I was her buddy. Though often elusive with strangers, Bobbi would hang out with me most all of the time. Her favorite perch was atop the refrigerator, which she'd get to by one of two means: Either she'd just jump straight up from the ground, or she'd take the scenic route, hopping from the floor to my stomach as I lay on the couch, pushing off with her hind feet (but always careful not to extend her claws because I was there,) to the countertop, across the sink, to the top of the fridge. From there, she'd gaze out across the fields, groom herself, and enjoy the superior vantage.

Imprinted on people, she chose me as her mate shortly thereafter, when she came into her first heat. I was sitting on a drafting chair working on music when she got amorous and just had to climb onto my shoulders. But without front claws to hold on with, she had to scramble to keep from falling, and ended up clawing her way up my back in the frenzy of her heat. I couldn't lie down for 3 days! Although I hated to put her through it because she had always been careful not to use her remaining claws on me, neither could I have her raking my back like that every six months. So I decided to take her to the vets to have her rear claws removed. Since she didn't have the fronts, I rationalized, she'd never be releaseable anyway. Frightened, but trusting in me, she rode in a dog crate in the truck and silently dealt with all the strange and frightening sights, sounds, smells and memories of a veterinarian's office. But when the vet prodded her out of the safety of her crate with a stick, the fragile control of her survival instincts was lost. She bolted out of the crate and bounced all over the vet's surgury rooms for about 20 minutes. I finally coaxed this trusting charge of mine back into a crate, and the dirty deed was eventually done. I'd never been involved with the declawing of a cat, so remained to watch the procedure. Only then did I fully realize how vulgar and barbaric a process it is, as the surgeon lopped off the ends of her toes at the first joint, crushing bones the whole way. Don't ask me why, but I'd envisioned it as being some sort of surgical extraction, nothing so brutally traumatic as the actuality. I'll never allow it to be done to any animal of mine again. Then, to make things worse, the vet apparently wasn't all that well versed with exotic cats, because he prescribed aspirin for pain. Aspirin, as I later came to find out, is highly toxic to cats, and she spent the next 3 days fighting to survive the toxicity of that drug.

Then came the time she'd been driven literally catatonic. I hoped to be able to keep my dog in the house as well and wanted to do the introduction while she was still young enough to be accepting of things. Again, no excuse for stupidity. I was still seeing this bobcat as a housecat because of the way she acted, having been raised up imprinted on people. I neglected to consider her hardwired instincts, her natural terror in the presence of an 85 lb. German Shepherd. Bobbi nearly broke her neck when the spell broke and she threw herself into 3 walls trying to escape the dog's previous presence. Then came the attempt to house her outside, when she buried her food for a week straight and nearly starved herself to death. A bobcat is a wild animal, has a wild animal's survival instincts. They're solitary predators, not made for social groups or the myriad of changes (let alone the sounds on TV, music and video games) found in a human home. But Bobbi's instincts had been altered by her upbringing. She was miserable away from people, miserable with them. So in she came, and it was decided that she could never be left outside again.

When I took on these animals, I expected to remain at the Lackey ranch for a very long time. But that was not to be. A few months after I acquired SoWePa, I had to leave the ranch, on relatively short notice. Since I had a young cougar, several hawks and falcons, and had yet to build or acquire a house on the land here in Pryor, Bobbi ended up in her fifth home at my friend Ben's when I left the Lackey ranch.

I knew that exotic cats don't take to changes very well, and if I'd been unsure, Bobbi was swiftly confirming this with me. As she got older, she became more inflexible, and began hiding from strangers when they came to visit. Ben did the best he could do, but without me there, Bobbi became more and more reclusive, solitary, and territorial. Her benefactor tolerated Bobbi urinating on just about everything he owned, (several times on things he liked or used alot,) dealt with her sometimes missing the huge litter pan next to the fridge, accepted her tearing up his carpet and the bottom of his sofa, growling at him in his own bedroom... Keeping a bobcat as a housepet isn't easy for an experienced exotic animal person. Besides, I'm the wild animal freak - Bobbi wasn't even Ben's cat! Yet he fed her, cleaned up after her, threw away a wardrobe of clothes... And in return, she growled at him just about any time their paths crossed. Sometimes I'd visit frequently, other times I couldn't or didn't get there for several weeks at a time. From time to time, he'd report that she'd gone off her food, and I'd come over and coax her into eating again. Apparently, home wasn't just 4 human's walls, it was wherever I lived, so if I didn't visit often enough, she felt abandoned and starved herself. Those without experience are ignorant of the intial and secondary signs of problems with exotic animals, so problems aren't detected and remedied until they become potentially life-threatening. By the time Bobbi's fleas were noticed, the infestation was severe, and flea-dipping a semi-feral bobcat is nigh unto impossible, so we did what we could with sprays and collars. Still, Ben kept Bobbi, continued to share his home with her, putting up with beef, chicken and quail parts all over his house because he knew the only viable alternative would be to put her to sleep.

A couple of weeks ago, David, at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, graciously agreed to take Bobbi and SoWePa in, give them both permanent homes, and even to share his own home with Bobbi, as he understood the circumstances she was raised under. We've been gathering the necessary paperwork and making arrangements since then to get them transferred to his fine care. Busch has expert exotic animal vets at his disposal, and we'd discussed all the steps that David would go through to ensure that Bobbi was treated for whatever might ail her as a result of the poor veterinary care available for exotic cats here in the Tulsa area. For SoWePa, this will be a marvelous home. But for Bobbi, it was not meant to be.

At 3:00 am this morning, I got a phone call from Ben. "I'm having a problem with Bobbi," he told me. "Yeah?" I inquired. "A big problem," he replied, "She's just laying there, won't move or wake up or anything." "Is she breathing," I asked. Seems like an obvious thing, but Ben is not an experienced animal person, he's just the guy who opened up his home to Bobbi for us when we had the need. "Yeah, but she just lays there..." My mind's running through things now, possible causes. Over the past 3 years, I've educated Ben and his roommate on alot of things most pet owners don't know. So I knew she hadn't gotten into any sort of poison... "Pick her up, move her out of the closet (her den)," I directed. Still she continued to lay there, seemed unable to use the left side of her body. "I'm on my way," I promised, and grabbed a syringe of sedative - a big syringe. If what Ben was saying was remotely close to accurate, Bobbi had suffered a stroke, and I would not put her through the indignity of saving her life so she could lay around partially paralyzed. dependent, frightened and miserable for another ten years.

When I arrived, Chris and Ben were both in the bedroom. Ben, who always felt Bobbi hated him, had her drawn up on his lap, and she seemed comforted by his presence as he stroked her head. For all their complaining and growling at and about each other, Bobbi lie there with her head in Ben's lap, clearly comforted by his strokes and cuddling. That one moment said more about both of their spirits than any of the griping I'd heard from both Ben and Bobbi about her living arrangements.

As I examined her, Ben's report was confirmed; Bobbi wasn' t able to use her limbs or eye on one side of her body. "That's it," I decided, "No more. She's suffered enough." Sometime after 4 am, blinking and choking back the tears, I gave Bobbi my last act of friendship. I injected her with a dose veterinary pre-op sedative, to release her from any pain or fear she was feeling. After she'd gone woozy and was pretty much out of it, I administered the remainder, a lethal dose some 10-15 times stronger than sedation, and we stayed with her, stroking her head while her respirations slowed, then finally stopped. At 4:52 this morning, Bobbi passed away from this world.

Despite all she'd been through at the hands of men, and even at the end, she still gained comfort from her human family, and never once bit or intentionally harmed anyone. She was cantankerous at times, playful at others, and sometimes just plain silly. Through it all, she was noble and carried herself with a dignity most men never acquire. All of these moods, and even her destructive antics, were part of her magic and charm. I learned much from my time with her, and am honored to have shared her time here on this earth. My only regret is that I wasn't able to provide a better, more consistent home, perhaps thereby preventing the times when she got weak, felt sick and withdrew from our company. If God's paying any attention at all, she's finally peaceful and safe from human meddling, playing in grassy fields, chasing rabbits and butterflies with the new claws and the wings heaven provides to angels like Bobbi.

Rest in peace, Big Girl... We love you, and will never forget you!

Spring, 1995 - Wed. 12/30/98 4:52 am

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