Roy and the Mystery Feline
If you have read any of the preceding Roy stories, you know that Roy has a history of unusual experiences with animals. This is story number seven about a mystery feline. The Roy stories as written by Roy’s father Ambrose Dimwitty are fictional, designed to capture the imagination of kids and kindle their natural love of animals. The stories are all based upon actual events and real animal behavior.
Roy and the Mystery Feline
The moon peeked through a cloud and illuminated the little kitchen enough for Roy to see Millie’s body sprawled flat on the linoleum floor in front of the battered screen door. He was alarmed until he heard her whisper. “Shhhh. You’ll scare it away.”
A few seconds before, Roy had groped his way out of the dark cramped bedroom he shared with his sister Millie into the moonlit kitchen. He had been awakened by the slapping of palmetto fronds against the bedroom window. A blustery but warm off shore breeze had picked up in the night and now scattered clouds took turns smothering the half moon. The dull rumbles of the rolling surf on the other side of the sand dunes seemed louder because the air-conditioner was out of order. Roy had noticed that his sister’s bed was empty. When it remained empty for five minutes he decided to get up and look for her. Where was she? And then he saw her.
Roy looked out the old screen door to the porch where his sister was looking. There was a dark shape directly on the other side of the screen in the flickering shadows. He could not see it well enough where he stood to identify it, so he slowly crouched down and crawled over beside his sister. He slowly lay down next to her and looked through the screen door at the motionless, dark object.
“It’s a very big kitty,” she whispered, with an emphasis on very.
“How right she was!” thought Roy. “It was a very big kitty.” Roy estimated that it must have weighed twenty pounds or more, easily twice the size of the average house cat. He had never seen anything like it before. The cat lay perfectly still and sphinx like except for the nervous twitching of the very tip of its tail. It seemed to be all black or dark gray in the faint light, and its black eyes sparkled with occasional wind blown moonbeams. Its head was strangely shaped, more like the head of an otter, and its body seemed to be unusually long. Millie and Roy lay motionless, enthralled by the strange creature and captured by their mutual fascination and love of animals.
Millie softly whispered the question that Roy was trying to answer in his own mind. “What do you think it is?”
Roy shook his head, not knowing how to answer. “It’s about the size of an ocelot,” he whispered back.
“But, its not spotted.” Millie replied.
Roy nodded his head and thought for a while. “It’s not big enough for a Florida panther, and besides, they’re not black like this kitty.”
Millie replied, “Maybe they have a black phase like leopards and jaguars.”
Roy nodded his head. “No, It’s something else, but I don’t know what.
The kids lay quietly face to face with the black feline enigma on the other side of the screen until they were startled by my voice behind them. “What are you kids up to. It’s four in the morning. Is everything OK?”
The kids turned to see me carefully shutting the bedroom door so as not to awaken their mother, Maggie. My whole family shared a deep love of nature. Maggie lacked our profound interest but cheerfully put up with the nature filled summer vacations I planned and perpetual conversations about animals and nature.
Millie beckoned to me to join them. “Shhh, come on over and see the big kitty.” She whispered.
I knelt down, and slowly crawled over to my kids and lay down next to them. The three of us looked out to the shadow filled porch, but it was empty. The cat had vanished like a flickering shadow into the dark waving palmettos, like an ebbing wave into thirsty dry sand.
“Daddy, you should have seen it.” Millie blurted out. It was a little black panther. It was lying on the porch watching us.”
I knew that my daughter was prone to exaggeration so I looked to Roy who was two years her elder. Roy smiled and nodded his head. “Yeah dad, it was two or three times larger than a tom cat but smaller than a cougar, and it was dark gray or black. I don’t know what it was.”
The three of us lay together on the floor in the flickering moonlight talking about the mystery feline until Millie dozed off. I carried her back to her bed and Roy hopped into his bed. I told Roy I would take them on a special trip the next day to see if we could find some answers to their questions about the mystery feline. That night Roy told me he dreamed about a black panther that purred loudly, rubbed its head against his legs and licked his hand. It was a dream he would never forget because it seemed so real.
The next morning after breakfast I made a phone call to the nearby Brevard County Zoo. The family piled into our old car and headed off to the zoo. Our appointment, with the curator of collections, was after lunch so the whole family toured the delightful little zoo, fed some of the animals from special food dispensers and had lunch.
“Come on kids. It’s time for our meeting with the curator. Maybe he can answer our questions.” I collected the family and tracked down his office.
The zoo curator’s name was Mr. Goodwin, a devoted animal lover and very knowledgeable curator, especially concerning Florida wild life. Roy and Millie told their story about the black mystery cat. Mr. Goodwin seemed very interested and asked the kids to indicate with their hands exactly how big the cat was.
“Hmm. Hmmm.” He looked puzzled. “Hmmm!” His eyes lit up. “Well now, I might have a theory for you kids. My first thought was that it was a small black phase Florida panther, as you suggested Roy. But, there are other possibilities. It’s very unlikely, but it just might be a crossbreed or hybrid that has escaped from someone’s collection. I suppose it might be possible that a big black tomcat that was crossbred with a bobcat. I’ve never heard of such a hybrid, but I suppose it is possible.”
Roy said, “You mean a hybrid like a mule?”
Mr. Goodwin replied, “Exactly Roy. A mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey.”
I asked. “How about a cross between a lion and a tiger?”
Mr. Goodwin nodded his head. “That hybrid is called a tiglion or a liger. And, there have been crosses between brown bears and polar bears but I don’t know what they were called. Many years ago there were reports out of Africa of a lion like animal with spots. In the wild different species usually do not crossbreed, but in captivity they may.”
“You mean it could have been a cross between a leopard and a lion?” Roy asked.
“Could be.” Mr. Goodwin replied. “Some zoologists think it might have been a species in its own right that became extinct many years ago.”
We all were fascinated with Mr. Goodwin’s information and the kids peppered him with unending questions.
Mr. Goodwin continued on. “My best guess is none of the above are likely. There is a slim but very possible chance that what you kids saw was a jaguarondi.”
“A what?” asked Millie.
“A Jaguarondi. It’s not a close relation to the jaguar but it lives in the same area, from the Argentine up into southern Texas. It is thought to be extinct in the states.”
“Its head had a funny shape, almost like an otter.” Roy added.
Millie piped in,“Its tail was long and thick.”
Mr. Goodwin replied,“Yes, that fits the description of a jaguarondi all right. If you get a chance to see it run or climb a tree you will be impressed. Although its legs are not long its body is long and supple, and it’s very agile and fast. It comes in two colors, reddish-brown and dark gray.”
I asked Mr. Goodwin, “If it was a jaguarondi, how do you suppose it ended up in Florida?”
“Don’t know, probably escaped from an illegal collection. Some people will pay big bucks for such a rare animal.” Mr. Goodwin replied.
Mr. Goodwin had a plan to find out if the mystery cat was really a rare jaguarondi. He told us what we could do that coming evening.
After dinner Roy and Millie laid out the bait. Maggie bought some chicken parts; livers, gizzards and hearts from the corner market and cut them into tiny pieces. The kids made little trails of the pieces, around the cabin, through the nearby dunes and back to our porch.
That evening as the sky darkened we gathered behind the screen door and waited quietly. It was hard for Millie to keep quiet so Roy had to keep poking her in the side and threatening to gag her. Finally, Maggie got tired of waiting and went into the bedroom to read. Millie climbed up onto my lap and soon dozed off. Roy remained on the floor behind the screen door scanning the darkening bushes of sea grapes and Palmettos in front of our little cabin.
Without warning a gray apparition appeared, standing over a piece of chicken liver and looking directly at Roy. It was at least three and a half feet long including its tail. Roy and I had not seen it arrive. It just, almost magically, appeared out of nowhere.
I gently shook Millie with my hand over her mouth so she could see our visitor. Not a sound was made as the strange cat devoured a piece of liver and started to chew a piece of a gizzard. When it had finished it lay down about three feet from the screen door and watched us as carefully as we were watching it.
Roy broke the silence. “Hello little jaguarondi. Did you have a good meal?” Roy’s voice had a special soft and calming quality to it. The cat’s ears faced forward, listening carefully. Roy continued, “Where did you come from? Are you all alone? You are a beautiful cat, We’ve never seen anything like you before.”
Roy’s words were soft and calming, and his body language, lying low on the floor, was non-threatening to the cat. In the past Roy had demonstrated his special ability to communicate with animals. They seemed to trust him and take a special interest in him.
The dark mystery cat crept a little closer to the screen door as Roy talked to it. Roy slowly raised one arm and pressed his finger against the screen. The cat moved closer and closer until its nose touched the screen where Roy’s finger lingered. It was smelling the human finger against the screen and demonstrating the natural curiosity that all cats have. It is a curiosity that has enabled felines to survive on this planet millions of years longer than humans.
Millie and I remained quiet and still, watching Roy communicate with the crouching animal.
“Well, what’s the verdict?” Maggie asked as she opened the bedroom door and flooded the room with light. “Did it show up yet?”
The mystery cat vanished so fast that no one saw it leave. Again, it’s disappearance was like magic. Roy Millie and I looked at each other and smiled.
“Mommy, You scared it away!” blurted Millie.
Maggie apologized, took Millie to bed, and tucked her in.
Roy and I opened the squeaky screen door and went outside to sit on two little white plastic chairs. We talked about what we had seen and learned, and how the cat came up to the screen door to smell Roy’s finger.
As we talked Roy felt what he thought was a mosquito on his ankle. He reached down lazily to brush it away and was surprised at what he felt. “Dad, I got a visitor.” He whispered.
I slowly leaned forward and looked down until I saw the dark head of the mystery cat nuzzling Roy’s leg in typical cat like fashion. I watched as it sniffed Roy’s hand and then gave it a lick.
“How long are you going to stay out there?” Maggie asked as she opened the screen door. Roy and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she had scared the cat away for the second time that evening. It was gone in a flash without so much as a sound.
The next morning I took Millie and Roy out for a search around the cabin. They walked behind me as I looked for prints and scat. We were in luck. Barely covered by sand was a little pile of fresh scat. I wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in my pocket. It ended up in the freezer against Maggie’s wishes until we drove back out to the zoo and gave it to Mr. Goodwin. He knew someone at the University who could do a comparison analysis with scat from captive jaguarondis. Maybe then they would know for sure if the mystery cat was a jaguarondi or a crossbreed.
We didn’t get the test results until we had returned to our home in the Bronx, N.Y. I got a letter from curator Goodwin and shared it with the family that evening. Their guess was correct. It was not a Florida panther, a bobcat, or a hybrid. Its scat was identical to the that of a jaguarondi on exhibit in the National Zoo in Washington, DC. except for the fact that it was a male and the captive cat was female.
Mr. Goodwin told us that he was currently trying to trap the solitary jaguarondi and hoped to deliver it to the safety of the National Zoo. The National Zoo had expressed their interest in breeding the rare Jaguarondi with their female. Millie and Roy agreed it was a happy-ending to their adventure with the mystery feline. Later in the year I received a letter from Mr. Goodwin along with a copy of a letter from the National Zoo in Washington, DC. announcing the first reported captive birth of two jaguarondi kittens in the nation. The kittens, a boy and a girl, were named Roy and Millie. My kids pestered me until I agreed to take them to see their namesakes.