West End News Feb. 18

Bill caught this picture of the bobcat under his deck! Yikes!
Bill caught this picture of the bobcat under his deck! Yikes!

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For many years, my dad, Frank Hansen reported the West End News, first for the Cook County News Herald and in recent years, for WTIP. The good folks at WTIP have asked me to continue Frank's legacy, which I have agreed to do with some trepidation - partly because I will never match Frank's knack for story telling and partly because he called me many times over the years and asked if I knew of something he could use in the column because the deadline was near and he was desperate for material. He always got it done though and I will try to do the same. As Frank always did, I encourage all West End residents to contact me if they have an event they want publicized or if they've had a unique experience, or know of anything newsworthy in the West End of Cook County. My phone number is 663-7150 and my email is bill@sawbill.com.

The big news recently has been the sudden appearance of bobcats all over Cook County. Here at Sawbill, our bobcat saga began when my child bride, Cindy, heard a commotion outside the office. When she went to the glass door to investigate she was astonished to see a bobcat standing on the front deck of the store with a squirrel in its mouth. All three of our dogs had joined her at the door and even they were so stunned that they didn't react at all. Then the squirrel gave a few dying kicks and that triggered the dogs to start barking frantically. The cat calmly set the not-quite-dead squirrel down, held it with his foot, gazed calmly at Cindy and the dogs for a minute, then picked up the squirrel and walked slowly away.

When I got home, I heard the story in detail, exclaimed at Cindy's good luck and the marveled at the novelty of the event. We figured that was the end of it, but no. The next day, the dogs were outside and suddenly started barking much more stridently than usual. I went outside to investigate and was again surprised as the bobcat appeared from behind the paddle rack and loped past, about five feet in front of me. The dogs were in pursuit, but not in hot pursuit. It was as though they were saying, "We want to chase you cat, but we don't really want to catch you."

They all wound up under the deck behind our house and our terrier, Phoebe, Chief of Outfitter Security, stayed under the deck and barked for the next several hours. When I couldn't stand it anymore, I put on coveralls and a headlamp and crawled under there. All I could see was a vigorously wagging terrier butt, up where the joists nearly meet the sloping ground. I could hear the bobcat growling as a steady counterpoint to the shrill barking. After I captured Phoebe and put her back in the house. I crawled back under and snapped some pictures of the cat still holed up between the joists. Phoebe had been nose to nose with it for all this time, but thankfully, no blood was spilled.

We decided for everyone's peace of mind, human, terrier and bobcat, to live trap the cat and release it far away. A little sliced turkey soon had the cat in the trap. We drove it to a snowmobile trail far from anyone's house and Cindy used the video camera to document how two nervous people release and angry bobcat from a live trap. Here it is:

We posted it to YouTube and it soon was picked up by a couple of blogs, including a blog from the Cities that posted it mainly to make fun of our accents, which they called "the best Minnesota accents since Fargo." I don't really know what they're talking about, but that's a different story.

Since then, we've heard of at least ten other homes in Cook County that have had similar bobcat experiences recently. It seems that when the snow is unusually deep and soft, the bobcats struggle to catch game and their extreme hunger blunts their normal fear of humans enough that they hang around bird feeders to grab the unwary squirrel. Sure enough, a couple of days later, we had a different bobcat show up at our feeder and it took at least one more squirrel off our hands. This one didn't hole up under the deck, so we left it in peace, except for a couple of more slow speed chases by the Chief of Outfitter Security.

This week's warm temperatures have caused - along with a couple of roof avalanches and a touch of premature spring fever - the bobcats to return to their usual haunts deep in the woods. Now, all we are seeing are their distinctive feline footprints on the ski trail, along with the usual pine marten, fox and wolf tracks.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen, with the West End News.

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