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Frank Gray

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A mountain lion is treed in Wisconsin in March 2009. It was only the second confirmed mountain lion in Wisconsin since the early 1900s, when the cougar was wiped out in most of the eastern U.S.

Paulding reports big-cat sightings

It's not necessarily a case of who's hunting whom, but over in Paulding County, Ohio, there have been reports of a big cat – a really big cat – lurking in the woods and fields a few miles southeast of the county seat.

The story is that a few days ago a resident called the sheriff's department and, asking not to be considered a kook, reported that for several days he had been hearing a cat crying and growling in the woods behind his house, and it didn't sound like any cat he had heard in those parts before.

Then, on Tuesday, two men working in a field near Road 151 and Road 108 reported that a huge cat, knee high, 50 pounds and straw colored, walked within 100 feet of them and disappeared into a field of corn.

For years now there have been scattered reports of big cats – mountain lions or pumas – being spotted in the region. One woman even sent me a photograph of a huge cat lurking on the edge of some woods near her home in Indiana. To gauge the size of the cat in her photograph, she even took a huge toy stuffed lion and photographed it from the same distance and angle where she had seen the live beast.

In Indiana, officials have always downplayed these reports. No one has ever been able to produce a real live or dead puma or solid evidence of one, so reports have been dismissed.

But animals that we aren't accustomed to seeing are popping up more and more.

Coyotes, for example, used to be confined to Saturday morning cartoons, but they are now relatively common. Just ask residents of housing developments in southwest Fort Wayne who have let their dogs out in their yards in the evening and had them attacked by coyotes.

There have been plenty of reports of cougars hit by cars, including one case in Connecticut three years ago. Investigators determined the cat had actually traveled 1,500 miles from the Dakotas.

In Paulding County, Sheriff Jason Landers looked at the two reports his department had received in the last few days and decided to put out a news release, telling the public about the strange sighting.

There have been no reports of any livestock being attacked or other property damage, Landers said.

Landers said he spoke to Department of Natural Resources officials to learn what people's options are if they were to encounter a cougar. He says game wardens are involved in the investigation and said that if anyone sees the animal, they should not take action but call the sheriff's department and report what they saw.

Landers said the announcement, which is an unusual one, doesn't mean the public is at risk.

He said he doesn't hunt, but that a deputy who is a hunter told him there's plenty of wildlife to support such animals.

Landers said he has talked to neighbors in the area where people reported seeing or hearing the animal, but just to keep them informed, and advised them that if they have young children they should be aware.

“I would have been sick to my stomach” if the reports turned out to be real and something happened to someone.

That's why he put out the announcement that he did. Better safe than sorry.

Meanwhile, his department plans to put out some game cameras and possibly get a picture of the animal.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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