Tom in Town
Paul Lupyczuk

Raccoons, deer and coyotes. Ask almost anyone about urban wildlife and they will come up with one of these. However, on one sunny day last August residents of two northwest Calgary communities were able to add another animal to the list.

At about 6:30 a.m. a motorist on his daily commute saw a large long-tailed cat bound across the street in front of his vehicle. He immediately contacted authorities to report the sighting of what he believed to be a wayward cougar.

Although several more sightings were reported throughout the morning, authorities could not locate the elusive feline. Everyone hoped the cat had escaped to the brush-filled coulees bordering the city. By early afternoon, that seemed to be the case. As the end of the day approached, one Arbour Lake resident entered his backyard to discover the cat had taken temporary refuge under his deck. The surprised Calgarian contacted Fish and Wildlife to report that a large growling and snarling cat was hiding under the deck in his backyard. As more information was gathered from the caller it became apparent that the wayward cougar had been located. Fortunately, one of Calgary's off-duty conservation officers was still available and set to work preparing immobilization equipment. The on-duty officer promptly attended the address given by the caller. As a number of onlookers were expected, Calgary Police Service (CPS) members were requested to assist conservation officers.

Upon arrival the first officer found a large crowd gathered in a backyard adjacent to the cat's location. The cat, difficult to see at first, had found himself a temporary lair with escape lanes on three sides, good cover on all four sides and from above. Although he seemed slightly nervous, he did not appear to be agitated. Presentations of exposed canines supported by low guttural growls reinforced his intentions to maintain his stronghold. As onlookers were cleared away the cat began to calm down.

With the arrival of the second conservation officer and several CPS units, the area was contained and a plan of action was developed. A local houndsman and his trusty blue tick supplied additional reinforcement.
We were ready. The plan was a simple one. Police officers were to keep the public away and the houndsman stood by in case the cat bolted. We had prepared two darts filled with a fast acting immobilizant.

One side of the deck was flush with the side of the house. From this vantage point the cat's position graciously provided a clear shot at his hindquarters. A shooter could get within 3.5 to 4 metres of the target almost guaranteeing a successful hit.

Unfortunately, there is something about best-laid plans when dealing with these types of situations. As sure as this plan was a recipe for success, it was also destined to be complicated by forces known only to fate and destiny. It seemed a misguided soul decided to take advantage of a nearby ill-guarded business. The "robbery in progress" call came in and the resulting shortage of police officers put an instant hold on our plan. Nearly 30 minutes passed as the attending sergeant tried, without success, to bring staff in from surrounding districts. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is not in the habit of waiting. Encroaching darkness forced us to act. As the remaining officers moved into position and the houndsman readied, Officer Gerry Filipchuk and I moved into position next to the deck. I needed to determine the location of the cat. With Gerry as my backup I was to simply stick my head around the corner of the house and look under the deck. The plan was to then dart the cat, move back and wait.

Unfortunately, as large cats seem to be somewhat active at dusk and dawn, the already setting sun told the cat it was time to wake up and started moving. As I peered around the corner my eyes seemed to take their time adjusting to the near black under the deck. The first thing they focused on was four large white pieces of ivory about one metre away from my face. In the time it took for one very fast heartbeat my brain interpreted the situation and decided that at this time flight would be a better choice than fight.

At this point, Gerry had not seen the cat. As I lunged backward the cat came forward to the edge of the deck and nearly face to face with Gerry. The resulting Mexican standoff between Gerry and the cat gave me the opportunity to grab a tranquilizer gun and move all the way around the house to a point where I thought I could get a shot. With the cat staring at Gerry and the statuesque Gerry staring right back, I was able to eventually get a clean shot at one of the cat's hind legs. Less than seven minutes later he was asleep and we were able to remove him from his sanctuary.

Photograph by Gerry Filipchuk

The 100-pound tom was bound, checked over and placed inside a large canvas hockey bag for ease of handling. After a night spent recovering from the tranquilizer the cat was driven to a mountainous area, far away from the possibility of another urban visit. With a few phantom leaps the misplaced feline was released to a new home with a second chance at life.

Photograph by Gerry Filipchuk

Paul Lupyczuk is a member of the Alberta Game Warden Association in Calgary.