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Bobcat attacks couple, dogs

Search is under way for cat in midtown



As officers searched midtown yesterday for a possibly rabid bobcat that attacked two people and several dogs Monday night, a wildlife official speculated that a dry winter may be pushing rabies closer to urban neighborhoods.

A Tucson Electric Power Co. crew in a cherry-picker spotted the cat, foaming at the mouth, yesterday morning. Monday night it attacked a couple in their driveway and got into a fight with a dog, which had to be euthanized.

Gerry Perry, regional supervisor for Game & Fish in southeastern Arizona, said rabies incidence is high in foxes found in the Catalinas and Rincons. Foxes have the same strain of the disease as bobcats.

“It would appear probably the disease is making its way northward and westward out of the Rincons,” he said.

Perry speculated that less rain drives animals to congregate at water sources, making it more likely that the disease, transmitted by biting, will spread.

“Any time we have dry winters we all of a sudden have a outbreak of rabies on predators,” he said.

The TEP crew spotted the cat in the 4900 block of East Fairmount Street, said Tom Whetten, information and education program manager for Arizona Game & Fish.

In Monday night’s attack, Robert Mercer said he and his wife were in their driveway in the 5100 block of East Second Street about 10 p.m., sorting clothes to donate to the needy, when they heard growling.

Mercer said his wife stepped around the side of their pickup and was confronted by the approximately 35-pound cat, which swatted her without breaking the skin.

“In a matter of seconds, it attacked her,” Mercer said. “I jumped on its back to try to keep it off her, and we tossed and turned.”

Mercer said he was bitten numerous times by the animal.

After the cat went under his truck he was able to get a cellular phone from the cab to call 911 when his wife started screaming that the cat had her cornered in the garage. Mercer said he got a pitchfork, but by then the bobcat had gone back under his truck before walking away from the home.

As of last night, Mercer had not received rabies vaccine. “I’m going to wait a bit longer,” he said.

After the bobcat attacked Mercer, it got in a fight with a Shar-Pei in the 5500 block of East Hawthorne Street at 11 p.m. The dog was later euthanized, Whetten said.

“We truly believe this bobcat is, in fact, rabid,” he said, noting it is out of the ordinary for the solitary animals to come in contact with humans and other animals.

“It wants to avoid humans, dogs, unless it’s sick and this one is obviously sick,” Whetten said. “It should have run away and it just didn’t.”

If you see a bobcat call 911 and do not approach it, Whetten cautioned.

Tucson police officers will try to isolate the cat and contact Game & Fish if they encounter it, said Sgt. Marco Borboa, a police spokesman.

One Game & Fish law enforcement program manager is searching a wash that runs north and south near the 4900 block of East Speedway Boulevard.

If the bobcat is caught, it will be killed and sent to a University of Arizona lab to test it for rabies and other diseases.

Earlier Monday night, the cat was spotted at a home on North Hill Farm Drive, about half a mile north of East Fort Lowell Road and about half a mile east of North Craycroft Road.

Greg Harris, 42, who lives in the 3200 block of East Hill Farm Drive, said he came out of his house at about 8:30 p.m. because he heard his two Australian shepherds yelping.

One dog’s eye was scratched and the bobcat had jumped on the other dog.

The bobcat “never seemed interested in me,” said Harris, who stood about three feet away. “He didn’t seem real aggressive.”

The bobcat had to get through a few fences to reach his backyard, Harris said.

Harris, who said his dogs have had rabies shots, has never seen a bobcat in his neighborhood but said a ranch nearby with a natural spring has attracted ducks, coyotes and mountain lions.

The area is about a quarter-mile south of the Rillito.

About 8:30 a.m. yesterday someone flagged down a police officer near North Torino Avenue and East Fairmount Street and said he had spotted a bobcat in a nearby city easement, Borboa said.

Also yesterday, a visitor to Sabino Canyon reported that a fox attacked him, seizing his pants leg, but did not break the skin, said Gail Aschenbrenner, a spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest. The fox was not captured.

In November, a possibly rabid fox bit a man in the east unit of Saguaro National Park. Park officials found a fresh fox carcass, and it tested positive for rabies in early December, said Danielle Foster, a park ecologist.

In 2001, 42 animals, all skunks and bats, were confirmed with rabies in Pima County. There has not been a human rabies fatality here for decades.

Animals live one to six days after the onset of symptoms and could die about a day after foaming at the mouth, Perry said.

PHOTO CAPTIONS: Photos by VAL CAÑEZ/Tucson Citizen

Robert Mercer, 53, holds the pitchfork he used to protect himself when he was attacked by a bobcat. The Arizona Game & Fish Department was still searching for the animal last night.

Robert Mercer shows his left arm, where his was bitten twice by a bobcat while he was working in the driveway of his home in the 5100 block of East Second Street. The bobcat, which attacked Mercer and his wife Monday night, is believed to have rabies. Mercer also was bitten on his right arm and on his right index finger.

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