I guess it was just meant to be. You know how some animals show up in your life when you least expect them to, maybe even as an unwanted surprise. At first you might hesitate to welcome them but once they’re yours, you can’t remember living your life without them. Few people even know about Panama. A housecat-sized wild cat, she’s small, quiet, stubborn and the oldest feline here at the Wildworks care center. This past spring she turned twenty-three years old! Panama is a stick-it-out kind of a bobcat.
I met little Pan Kitty-which came to be her nickname-in 1987 when she was a kitten. I was working at the Los Angeles Zoo when I decided to get some extra experience on the weekends training wild cats for a very wealthy but eccentric young man who kept them as pets. He lived in Hollywood and owned African lions, mountain lions, leopards and tigers! Can you imagine? He added two bobcat kittens to the mix and then, after naming the male Kiowa and the tiny female Panama, decided he didn’t want them after all!
Kiowa suffered a fatal accident, falling from a high shelf. Sadly, Panama was now alone.“She’s not big enough and she’s not even pretty.” He told me one day. I didn’t share his opinion. Then to my surprise he said, “If you want her, you can have her.” Now here in California, it’s illegal to have bobcats as pets so I knew this wasn’t exactly legitimate. Yet, I didn’t hesitate. I’d already been handling her and teaching her to walk on a leash.
However, being a bobcat, she wasn’t exactly trainable. The fact that she had been declawed didn’t help, either. Her tiny feet were sore and walking was painful. No wonder she growled when I pulled on the leash!
Fearing Panama’s owner might change his mind, I took her home in a hurry that day to my guest house in Redondo Beach. Riding shotgun next to me in my truck, I tied her leash to the armrest. She had already let me know in her own special way (which included growling and snapping in my direction!) that confining her to a crate was out of the question.
There was a tree house in my backyard, in need of repair, but perfect for Panama. I was quick to begin work on her “room with a view”, but in the meantime she needed another place to stay while I was gone at work. It would have to be my bedroom.
Wild and exotic cats are not domestic.
People will try and turn them into pets but they never make good ones. I learned this lesson the hard way when I left the bobcat alone for a day with a litter box and some toys behind the closed door to my bedroom.
When I came home from work and the door was still closed, I assumed everything was fine. Then I opened it and the odor of cat urine almost knocked me over! Panama was nowhere to be seen, but the mattress, which was under the blankets on the bed when I left, was everywhere, ripped completely to shreds along with the sheets, blankets and pillows. I looked in the closet, but Panama wasn’t there. So I looked under what was left of the bed and then I saw, tucked up inside the box springs, a white-tipped tail flicking back and forth. Covered with mattress stuffing, her thick-furred body, barely visible, was vibrating. Pan was purring. Her work had been done and it was time for a nap. Needless to say Panama moved into the tree house the very next morning.
She liked my housecats, especially one named John who was the boss and would stand his ground when challenged. She would pounce in his direction landing square in front of him, nose to nose. John wouldn’t budge and Pan would never push her luck, moving quickly on to the next potential housecat victim.
I liked to take Panama on trips to see my family who lived in the Sierras. Pan was free to sit in the front seat and jump back and forth through the window of the truck camper shell. I tried to take a friend along, but when I stopped for gas she sprang to his seat and wouldn’t let him back in the truck! It was going to be just me and her—or nothing.
Once I had a real scare. Arriving with Pan at my destination late at night, I opened the back door to the camper shell to catch her leash, but I missed and she jumped to freedom into the dark forest. Quickly, I grabbed the flashlight, shining it in every direction. I called her name and searched and searched but saw no sign of my bobcat friend. Nearly hysterical and thinking I had lost her forever; I sat down in the dark and put my head in my hands. Then, with not the slightest warning, it happened.
“OUCH!” I cried out as she jumped me from behind, paws around my neck and her teeth poking into my head. It was Panama. And I was her prey.
I had now seen firsthand that she was truly a wild animal so I decided to donate her to the Zoo. There I could see her everyday and she would have a larger enclosure. Plus she was a perfect candidate for our native animal show “Wild in the City”. Raccoons, hawks and owls were already in the show and the addition of a bobcat would be great. Or so I thought. Panama thought differently. She did move to the Zoo but due to her feisty nature she never worked in the show. She lived in a large enclosure and got lots of attention until 1993 - and then it happened. The show was cancelled and Panama had to leave the Zoo.
She was transferred on loan to the Moorpark College Teaching Zoo where she would wait for me to figure out a way to bring her home again. After a long two years I was able to acquire the proper permits to house her. In the spring of 1996, I bought her back from the Zoo (for the purchase price of one dollar!) and she finally came home to stay.
What a life! And Pan is not finished yet. Our opinionated, mini wild cat has padded into old age in style. Now she spends most of her time napping but, having mellowed with age, she’s quick to demand the attention of her humans, meowing and rubbing and coaxing them to her. She loves to be brushed and scratched, but I’ve passed on to her new friends the important lesson she taught me long ago: Never turn your back on a wild animal. Even old lady Panama won’t hesitate to remind you of her wildness with a bobcat bite to the calf!
***Panama is now a senior citizen. Her feet are still sore and she has never been able to jump or play like a cat with claws. And at age twenty three the surgery risks are too high for her to undergo the new declaw repair procedure now available for wild and domestic cats. But with the generous help of your sponsorship we can continue to provide comfort (supplies, medical treatment and TLC) for sweet little Panama as she continues on in her old age.
She’s earned it! Thank you for caring.