Special Report filed by AAF Animal Attack Files Special Report
from The Dallas Morning News

      Large cat spotted in West Arlington
West side residents warned of danger

October 21, 2000

By Jason Trahan / Arlington Morning News

Linda Wendt was walking up her driveway after getting the mail when she saw a sleek black streak leaping down a wooded hill toward her.

"I thought, 'That's a big cat, not a kitty,' " Mrs. Wendt said, recalling the sighting Tuesday behind her home in the 2800 block of Oak Cliff Lane.

The animal suddenly turned halfway down the hill and lay down on a neighbor's patio.

"I called animal services and said 'I know you're going to think I've been drinking, but we've got a big cat out here,' " she said. "It was awesome."

In an instant, it was gone.

In the past two weeks, the city has received three calls from residents in West Arlington who live in the Interlochen, Millbrook and Oaks neighborhoods, said Mike Bass, animal services supervisor with the city.

All of the callers have reported seeing a sleek black cat about the height of a medium-sized dog. Authorities said the callers told them the feline had a long tail.

No one has photographed the animal, and no injuries have been reported, Mr. Bass said.

"We've got people calling in and giving us information, but we haven't found anything that would define what we are looking for."

Residents who have seen - or heard - the creature said there is no doubt in their minds that the animal is a panther.

"It was a big, sleek, black cat," said Ann Daniel, who saw the prowler about two weeks ago in her back yard in the 1400 block of Woodbine Court. "It was not a coyote," she said.

Mrs. Daniel said about that at about 7 a.m. one day, her family's Siberian Husky, Nikki, began barking wildly in the back yard, which is surrounded by a six-foot wood fence.

"I looked out and I saw a panther sitting on the fence," she recalled. She called animal control, but the animal left before officials arrived.

"It's scary when you've got a 2-year-old grandbaby here, and other kids playing around here," she said. "Some of our neighbors have seen it more than once, and one of them found tracks on their picnic table.

"I was beginning to think people didn't believe us," Mrs. Daniel said.

On Thursday, the city issued a warning about the "large cat" spottings, asking residents to refrain from leaving garbage out at night and pet food out in the open. The warning also cautioned against allowing children to play alone at dawn and dusk.

The city also is paying private contractor Cliff Moore of Animal Damage Control Services $50 per hour to set traps and identify what exactly has invaded posh West Arlington.

"He's worked about five or six hours" since the city hired him on Thursday, said Bob Byrd, assistant director of the city's Neighborhood Services department. "He will be doing some work this weekend.

"He will be kept until the situation has been resolved or until we feel there is nothing more he can do for us."

Mr. Bass said Mr. Moore has come up empty-handed so far.

"He is following up on the leads," he said. "He's scoped out an area of about 200 acres so far looking for any signs of the animal. We don't have any tracks or conclusive evidence."

Cats such as panthers are not native to North Texas, he said, fueling speculation that the animal is someone's current or former exotic pet.

"Everyone wants an exotic animal in their back yard," said Dee Stephens, cruelty investigator with the Humane Society of North Texas.

"What we see are people getting the cougars, panthers and tigers when they are cubs. At that age, they think they are cute and cuddly. They get a little big, and people find out that these are dangerous animals who could injure someone."

She said if the danger factor doesn't dissuade pet owners from keeping their exotic animal, other factors will.

"The food bill far outweighs that of the normal pet. Then they call us to come get it."

Sometimes, she said, the pet owner abandons the animal in an open area. About three times a year, she said the Humane Society receives reports of sightings of exotic animals throughout North Texas.

"You're generally not going to get a large cat running around a neighborhood unless they've been brought there. It could be a case of a cat like that getting to be six months old and somebody lets them go."

She said the animals survive on small rodents near rivers or ponds, or break into garbage bags and feast on its contents.

"They won't starve," she said.

Mrs. Daniel said she believes the cat she saw was tame.

"I think it's somebody's pet that got loose and they just don't want to admit it."

(c) 2000 The Dallas Morning News

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