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Marco’s wild bobcat kitten is on its way to a new life. Officer Allan Reyes doesn’t know how the kitten came to be along the side of San Marco Road. The Marco Island Police Department received a call on the afternoon of June 6, and Reyes was dispatched to investigate.

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“First, they said it was a panther,” said Reyes, who put his gloves on before attempting to apprehend the juvenile. The tiny bobcat, with one rear leg apparently injured, did not come quietly.

“He was in the bushes and ran away. When backup arrived (MIPD Officer Jeff Stafford), I was able to grab him wearing gloves. At first he tried to bite me, but when I held him with both hands he calmed down.” The sex of the kitten was not determined, so the “he” is conjectural.

Reyes held onto the kitten as they took it back to the MIPD, where a stock of cages is kept for such situations, although they deal more often with dogs, domestic cats, or even pelicans. Reyes delivered the bobcat to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

There, hospital manager Jonee Miller, who stayed after normal closing hours to receive the kitten, took over.

“We give every animal that comes in a full physical, look for fractures or physical injuries,” she said, adding that those finding wild animals should interact with them as little as possible before turning them over to the hospital’s care.

The wildlife hospital is open 12 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 365 days a year, and during those hours, people finding injured or distressed wild animals can bring them to the receiving station at the northeast corner of the Conservancy campus. Outside those hours, said Miller, just keep the animals “warm, dark, and quiet. It sounds simple, but that’s what they need. Don’t give them food or water,” she urged, and don’t try to clean wounds. “We do that under anesthesia. Don’t make the animal expend energy. Don’t touch them – use a little broom or gloves, some kind of shield.”

Miller has a degree in biology from the University of Tampa and has been caring for stricken wildlife for 15 years. In all that time, she said, “this is my youngest bobcat ever,” although she has treated everything from an Eastern screech owl with a broken wing to a red footed booby.

“They’re not supposed to be in this area. It must have been pushed off course.”

The bobcat kitten, in the next few days, proved ravenously hungry. Miller estimated it might have been away from its mother for 24 hours before being brought in, and said it shredded the nipple on the feeding syringe when they fed it formula.

The Conservancy took in 109 distressed animals the week the kitten came in, said von Arx Wildlife Hospital director Joanna Fitzgerald, over 3,700 per year. The cost to run the hospital is $750,000 per year, “and would be north of a million if we did not have a team of dedicated volunteers,” said Conservancy communications director Catherine Bergerson.

The bobcat kitten was transferred to Creature Safe Place in Fort Pierce, where they have a more remote area to give it a wilder setting before releasing it back into nature, said Miller. And she said they refrain from naming the animals they take in.

“What’s the first thing you do with a pet – you name it. That implies ownership,” she said.

Back on Marco Island, the bobcat kitten became something of a star on Twitter, when the MIPD posted a picture of Reyes holding it after the rescue.

“As of today, over 4,000 people viewed the Twitter post, and 800 interacted with it – emailed, liked, or retweeted it,” said MIPD Capt. Dave Baer, who is acting chief of police. Baer said the department’s Twitter account has become a vital link to the community, with a wealth of useful information. The account can be found @marcoislandpd.

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