Cougar Caught in Minnesota Town

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Officers deployed to capture cougar outside Willmar home

West Central Tribune, 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839, Willmar, MN 56201 – February 1, 2006.

By Peter Cox, West Central Tribune (Willmar, Minnesota)

Willmar police officer Anthony LaPatka is in position Tuesday to fire a tranquilizer dart at a cougar spotted under a trailer outside a residence in Willmar. Tribune photos by Bill Zimmer

WILLMAR — Chris Buzzeo had just picked up a co-worker on Sixth Street on his way to work Tuesday morning when he noticed something up in a tree.

‘“Did you see that?’” he asked his friend as they drove past. He stopped, backed up his vehicle and looked up at … a cougar.

“Both of us were astonished,” he said.

Buzzeo called 911. Police officers cornered the animal under a large camper trailer parked in the driveway of a residence at 804 Sixth St. S.W. Willmar Police Officer Anthony Lapatka shot the cougar with a tranquilizer dart. Then a local veterinarian injected a sedative via a stick.

The cougar slowly came out from under the trailer and began walking toward the veterinarian.

It then turned around, ran toward the backyard and jumped a four-foot fence.

Officers then cornered the cougar in the backyard of a house on the southeast corner of Minnesota Avenue and Seventh Street.

Robert Bolger of New London, who has worked with large cats in the past, joined the officers and surrounded the cougar. Bolger tackled the cougar and helped place it into a cage that was loaded into a nearby van.

COUGAR CAPTURE: Robert Bolger of New London tackles a cougar Tuesday in a southwest Willmar neighborhood. Bolger, experienced with big cats, assisted law enforcement in capturing the roaming cougar.

The cougar was taken to the South 71 Vet Clinic in Willmar.

Kennedy School, which is half a block from where the cougar was captured, was put on lockdown, said principal Scott Hisken.

At the South 71 Clinic, Dr. Gregg Laurence determined the cat is female and is about 18 months old.

“We are going on the assumption that it’s probably not a true wild cougar,” he said. “Usually a cougar wouldn’t be in the middle of Willmar. They tend to be real, real secretive animals. It seemed halfway comfortable with people.”

However, recent research has shown that cougars aren’t as leery of urban settings as once thought, according to the Associated Press.

A study in California in 2004 found that cougars were spotted near clusters of homes in San Diego County.

In 2003, an 80-pound cougar was captured outside Omaha, Neb., city limits, The Associated Press reported. In 2004, officials in Tucson, Ariz., closed a public park after cougars were repeatedly seen by parkgoers.

There has also been an increase in cougar sightings in the Midwest in the last few years. Cougars were hunted to extinction in most of the Midwest in the 1900s.

Willmar Police Sgt. Rick Kleinschmidt said that while the cougar didn’t seem wild, it was not declawed like most tame cats and had no tags.

The Department of Natural Resources will be making a decision on what to do with the cat if no owner comes forward.

“Releasing it somewhere might be an option,” Laurence said. He said the clinic will hold the cat for several days to see if anyone comes forward.

Kleinschmidt said that there are permits for bobcats and lynx in the area, but no cougars or mountain lions. He said police had experience with deer and bulls escaping when there used to be stockyards in Willmar, but nothing like this.

“I don’t recall anything like a mountain lion in town,” he said.