*I told AL.com Environmental Reporter, Ben Raines it was too bad the housewife/mom/Junior League columnist had this experience instead of him. He would have known exactly what this thing was. But now I know for sure my heart surgery was a success, since I didn’t fall over dead when I saw this beast! I actually stayed fairly calm . . . until I got back to the house and realized how dangerous it really was! Then, there was a little freak-out party.
There’s no fake news in this story — cross my heart. I saw a rare — some think non-existent, Florida panther and I came within inches of having him eat me alive. Proof of my story is that someone else finally captured the big cat – or his identical brother on video.
My word count restriction keeps me from relaying all the horrifying details, but if we ever meet in person, I’ll give you the full story, complete with a dramatic reenactment of how the panther looked racing away.
Visiting my parents in Mary Esther, Florida, I decided to walk down their wooded path at dusk to the Santa Rosa Sound. I saw a gaggle of geese waddling down the beach, then over my left shoulder caught site of the beast. Not a wolf, coyote or other dog-like animal, not a short-tailed bobcat, but a sleek, black or dark grey long tailed cat, larger than my 62 pound dog.
With front paw extended and creeping low to the ground, he was ready to pounce. I had already started to jump off the dock and when I landed in the sand, Big Kitty took off like lightning. Striking the pose of a hood ornament on a Jaguar, he was gone in an instant, but I had a great view since he was in a cleared area, only about 15-20 feet away (I can’t estimate distances very well, so I actually got out a tape measure to be factual – more honesty points).
The monster cat ran in the exact direction I needed to go to return to the house, so I either had to follow him, or swim to Destin. As I walked, not too fast, because cats like to chase things that run, I remembered a true family story, recorded in the Walton County history book about my great-great-great grandmother Howell who killed a big cat, which back then, they called a “catamount,” when it attacked her young son. When the boy was grown, he showed my father the scars he still had on his chest from the incident. “If my granny can kill a big cat with her bare hands, so can I,” but then prayed, “But God, you know I’m an exhausted middle-aged mom taking care of her parents, and I don’t have the energy to go all Kung Fu on Bagheera today. And besides, I’m having a really good hair day considering all this humidity . . .”
Even though neighbors confirmed their dog was fighting something “big” in the bushes a few nights before, no one believed me and even my own mother laughed a judgmental ha-ha-ha.
The next day, I wanted to examine the beach for evidence of a goose dinner, so I took one of my dad’s fishing knives with a pretty leather case, and put it in the pocket of my new Talbot’s skirt. I love animals but wouldn’t hesitate to whoop-up on the panther and carry him home on my shoulders because Southern women will do anything to prove they are right. I only got as far as the top of the pathway and chickened out. Instead, I used the knife to cut some pretty magnolia leaves for an arrangement.
Four days later, my mother called, near hysteria, telling me about a story in The North West Florida Daily News, by journalist Annie Blanks. An animal exactly matching the description of “my” panther had been captured on video 20 miles north, through undeveloped Air Force land. I contacted the creator of the video, Joshua Neel, who agreed it was at least 60 pounds and looked like a panther. The cat in his yard was large enough to bend a sturdy fence. Although the local wildlife officials said it was probably a “jaguarundi”– which I’d never heard of, but discovered they only grow to an average of 20 pounds and live in South America.
AL.com environmental reporter, Ben Raines, who is very “outdoorsy,” said it could indeed have been a panther, so who knows? Either way, I’ve got a great story to tell my grandchildren someday. Not as heroic as my great-great-great granny’s story, but a good tale, nonetheless. I promise you one last time, my journalistic integrity is alive and well, and thank God, so am I.
You can see the video by Joshua Neel and read the story about his encounter with a large cat, written by Annie Blanks from The North West Florida Daily News HERE.
See this story on AL.com HERE