Even Oak Hill School was surprised at the fate of the bobcat kitten that wandered into the school on Oct. 16. Apparently, the Oregon State Police officer who showed up with catch poles — luring the kitten into the back of a patrol car before driving off — hadn’t told the school they’d be bludgeoning the kitten to death, according to a Facebook comment from the school.
“It’s terribly sad, and very much contrary to what we were told would happen — that the animal would simply be relocated and released back into the woods,” says the school’s comment from Oct. 17. “It’s upsetting to say the least.”
The story of a bobcat kitten being “euthanized” after accidentally getting trapped in Oak Hill School attracted national attention last week after it was revealed just how the kitten had been killed.
In an email to Brooks Fahy executive director of Predator Defense, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife writes that “blunt force trauma to the head” was used to kill the kitten, following guidelines ODFW says were set by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Animal advocates in Oregon and nationwide are using the incident as an example of government agencies being untrained and underprepared when dealing with wildlife and dispute the incident met AVMA guidelines.
“Wildlife management agencies aren’t conservation endeavors,” Fahy says. “They don’t really know how to handle animals that are alive, other than killing them. Part of the bigger picture here is looking at how these agencies respond.”
Oak Hill School sits in the forested hills of south Eugene next to Lane Community College. According to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office dispatch logs for that day, deputies received a call about a bobcat trapped in the kitchenette area a little before 4 pm Oct. 16.
The logs show that by 5:30 pm, OSP had removed the kitten from the school. Cell phone footage provided to KVAL shows officers using metal catch poles to drag the kitten into a patrol car as parents and children watch from the side.
In a statement provided by DJ Mann, ODFW acting lieutenant, the officers hadn’t originally planned to euthanize the kitten. Deputy Eric Franklin first suggested euthanasia, citing the kitten entering the school as “abnormal behavior.”
After several inquiries, ODFW and OSP have not answered questions revealing the instrument used to administer the blunt force trauma or where the kitten was killed.
On Oct. 18, two days after the first bobcat kitten was “euthanized” a second kitten came onto school property at Oak Hill. In an ODFW press release, officials say that based on its teeth, the male kitten was around 6 months old. It was released back into the wild after blood tests and X-rays given by a state veterinarian failed to reveal any health issues. Fahy says that it’s a good chance that the two bobcats were related, although no tests were taken on the bobcat that was killed.
“The only difference between these two incidents is that the first kitten was cornered inside the school, while the second one was cornered outside,” Fahy said. “Euthanasia shouldn’t have been an option. The kitten didn’t qualify for it. The kitten was brutally and wrongfully killed.”
The ODFW website says that the bobcats in Oregon are about twice the size of house cats, with longer legs and shorter tails. They can be found all over Oregon. In his 11 years as Oregon’s state director at the Humane Society of the United States, Scott Beckstead has never heard of a wild bobcat being euthanized by blunt force trauma.
“It’s a form of euthanasia used on large industrial farms for newborn pigs,” Beckstead says. He’s never seen the method used on any other species, he says.
The same AVMA guidelines used by OSP to justify the use of blunt force trauma are now being used by animal advocates nationwide to denounce the decision to euthanize the bobcat at all.
According to the 2013 “Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals” released by the AVMA, the use of blunt force trauma as a humane tool for euthanasia depends on multiple factors such as where the bludgeoning takes place, who administers the single, humane blow and whether that person been officially trained.
Another factor is the size of the animal’s skull. The AVMA guidelines say “manually applied blunt force trauma to the head has been used primarily to euthanize small laboratory animals with thin craniums.” AVMA also says that those who use blunt force trauma on an animal “must be aware of its aesthetic implications.”
The AVMA even mentions the long-term mental health effects performing this type of euthanasia can have on those who administer it. The organization urges searching for alternate approaches.
From Beckstead’s perspective, the bobcat from Oak Hill Elementary met none of these requirements.
“Euthanasia refers to the killing of an animal as a means of relieving its suffering,” Beckstead says. “This was not euthanasia. This was a perfectly healthy, juvenile animal that in the hands of licensed Oregon wildlife rehabilitation professionals could have easily been turned back out into the wild.”
OSP says in a statement that the decision to use blunt force trauma was made after the officers concluded that discharging a firearm wouldn’t be safe.
“The chosen manner in which this animal was euthanized (blunt force trauma) was to ensure the safety of the officers involved,” the statement says. “The Oregon State Police’s number one priority when dealing with wildlife is the public’s safety.”
“Even state police that I’ve dealt with in the past have very little experience handling live animals without basically shooting them or bludgeoning them to death,” Fahy says. “They don’t really know how to handle animals that are alive other than killing them.”
To Fahy and other animal advocates, the absence of conservation training will always prevent state wildlife authorities from acting humanely when a bobcat accidentally finds itself in a man-made structure.
“The ODFW doesn’t have a wildlife hospital. They don’t have a facility to handle live, wild animals,” Fahy said. “The bulk of what agencies like ODFW do is administered killing. The public is grossly misinformed to think their making decisions are based compassion.”
While Fahy says Oak Hill has not responded to his questions about the incident, nor has Oak Hill responded to EW’s requests for comment, the school did briefly address people questioning the kitten’s death via its Facebook page. The school writes, “It’s unclear to us as well. We don’t know and weren’t told. We saw it on the news. Heartbreaking.”