Audra Noble of Shady Acres Road was doing the dishes last Thursday when she looked out the window and spotted a cat outside—but it didn't look like a regular house cat.
"I said, 'Wow, that's an absolutely ginormous cat,'" she recalls telling her mother, who also saw it. Noble's yard is on Shady Acres Road, not far south of that road's intersection with Marianne Road. Both roads are just east of the northern end of Brookside Road and close to the Norwalk border (see map attached to this article).
After doing a little online research, Noble now believes what she saw was a bobcat. Darien Animal Control Officer Chip Stahl says it's a very uncommon sighting, but the big cats get spotted once or twice a year in town.
When present, they can pose a small danger, but mostly to very small children, cats and smaller dogs, he said.
According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, bobcats can range as far as 8 to 10 miles, commonly with daily movements of 1 to 4 miles.
"Bobcat attacks on people are virtually unknown," according to the DEEP Web page on the species. "They are not a significant vector of disease and rarely contract the mid-Atlantic strain of rabies."
Noble's mother, a Hamden resident, told her she thought it was a house cat, perhaps one that went wild.
But Noble disagreed. It wasn't only big, she said, but it reminded Noble of the big cats she'd seen on her recent honeymoon—a safari in Africa.
"There was something about it that was clearly not domestic," Noble said. "It was stealthy and sort of precise in its movements."
She saw the cat walk over to a big rock, lay down on it for some minutes, then saunter off.
Noble and her mother debated for a bit and kept discussing the animal for days afterward. Her mother said she didn't think there were wild cats in this area of Connecticut.
Noble and her mother looked up pictures online before seeing bobcat photographs posted online by a Woodbury, CT man. They looked just like the cat she saw, Noble said.
Your wild neighbors
There are bobcats in this area, said Stahl, the animal control officer. The largest, however, get to be perhaps 35 to 40 pounds—not nearly the size of big cats, he said. "They look like much bigger animals than they really are."
You're lucky to spot a bobcat in Darien, he said, in part because there don't seem to be many of them in the area, but also because they tend to stay away from people and are out mostly at night. If you see one during the daytime, it's more likely early morning or around dusk, he said.
Noble recalled seeing the animal closer to midday, probably in the early afternoon.
Bobcats hunt rabbits and other small animals like mice, and sometimes birds, but they might also get food from bird feeders and garbage, he said. It's possible for one to kill a small deer, perhaps by jumping down from a perch up a tree.
Bobcats can pose a danger to domesticated cats and very small dogs like Chihuahuas or Westies, Stahl said. It's possible that they could attack babies and toddlers, but very small children shouldn't be left alone outside for many other reasons, he said.
What to do
If you encounter a bobcat or any bigger predatory creature out in the wild, including coyotes (which are common in Darien), bears, wolves or even mountain lions (all of which are either extremely rare or nonexistent in town), don't turn your back on it as you go away, Stahl warns.
When you do that, he said, "You're giving a prey response—something a rabbit would do."
Instead, he said, if you have any concerns about your safety, raise your arms up to make yourself look bigger and make a lot of noise.
To avoid bobcats and some other wild creatures, secure your garbage containers, don't bring them to the curb until the day of pickup, and avoid most bird feeders, he said.
Having a bird feeder "really isn't recommended, unless it's a bad winter," he said, because they can attract more than birds to the yard. A suet feeder is best, especially if hung in a cage that birds can get at but not animals.
Stahl, a police officer who usually deals with licensing of dogs and domestic animals, gets more wild animal reports of foxes and coyotes than anything else, he said, but he's happy to offer advice to anyone who's concerned after they see a wild animal about town. He can be reached at the Darien Police Department, (203) 662-5300, ext. 2.
The wilds of Connecticut
Noble moved to Darien from New York City several months ago with her family, and although she grew up in Hamden, the change from an urban environment to one where she's encountering wild animals has been abrupt, she said.
She's been reading about bears spotted in nearby towns and wondering just how concerned a local resident should be nowadays. Although she's used to closing and locking doors, now she wonders if it's not just burglars but squirrels she should be mindful about.
Noble said her husband kids her about it, and when she recently closed a door and told him, "What if a squirrel had gotten into the house?" He replied, "Don't worry, the bear will eat it."
Editor's note: See also: "Wild Bears Get Closer to Darien: One Spotted in New Canaan" (July 24)