Mystery of black cat grows in Coweta

by Wes Mayer

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Black jaguar

After a large, black cat-like animal attacked and carried away a Coweta County couple’s pet dog earlier this month, a number of Cowetans have also reported seeing a similar animal in the county.

Josephine Young, the owner of Max, who is thought to have died in the attack, described the animal as a large cat with a long tail. She estimated it was about five or six feet long, but only around two or three feet high. She is certain it was not a coyote, and its coat was shiny and black. Young lives on Timberland Trail off Smokey Road south of Newnan.

Young is not the only person in Coweta County who has seen an animal like this, though.

Annie Joe Berkowitz, who lives in the area of Coweta’s B.T. Brown Reservoir north of the Madras area, said she also had a near-close encounter with a large black animal in April.

Because Berkowitz’s property is a heavily wooded area filled with many wild animals, she said she does not let her 15-pound cat, Whiskers, outside without supervision. So, on one sunny day in April, Berkowitz and Whiskers were walking down her driveway when she saw the large animal sitting in a tree.

She couldn’t exactly describe the animal, but she said it was too large for a house cat and her first thought was that it was a black bear. What she really remembered seeing, though, were the animal’s glistening red eyes.

Berkowitz said her reaction was to sneak up behind Whiskers and grab him with the towel she was carrying, so Whiskers wouldn’t go after the large animal or scratch her. Fortunately, Whiskers did not bite or scratch her, and they were able to safely get back home. She reported the sighting to the authorities, but no one else saw the animal.

“I’ve wished so many times that Hank had been home to get pictures,” Berkowitz said, referring to her husband. “I still get tremors of being thankful when the beautiful creature ran away instead of toward Whiskers and me.”

Kirsten Eschbach said she also saw a large cat around three months ago, and she thinks it may have been a brown Florida panther, an endangered species which once roamed Georgia regularly but now only has a territory in the southern tip of Florida.

“My husband and I were driving near Elim Baptist Church, and the cat stepped out of the wood line and jumped across the two-lane road,” she said. “In one single jump. There was no mistaking it, that is definitely what we both saw.”

Eschbach said the animal must have been five or six feet long, including the tail, and she is guessing it weighed more than 120 pounds.

Wayne Adams, who lives off Minix Road, said he has seen large cats around his property a number of times, and he remembers first seeing one of the cats run across his pasture about 10 years ago. About six or seven years ago, however, he saw a large black cat up close.

“I was sitting outside,” Adams said, “and I saw the cat in the carport eating cat food. It was beautiful, and it’s got a long black tail. It’s not like a house cat; it’s big.”

Adams said if he opened the door, he would have been right on top of the large cat. Instead, he went inside and grabbed his rifle, but when he ran back around, the animal was gone. Shortly after this, Adams said his pet cat went missing.

He said he hasn’t seen any large cats in the last year or so, but he regularly finds tracks around the muddy banks of two ponds on his land. The tracks are much different than a dog’s tracks or deer tracks, he said.

According to various websites, it is fairly easy to tell the difference between canine tracks – such as a wolf’s or a coyote’s – and feline tracks – such as a cougar’s or a jaguar’s. Canine tracks will always make an oval shape with the two middle toes sticking further forward than their first and fourth toes. Canines’ claws, at least of their two middle toes, are also often showing in their footprints.

A cougar’s prints, however, will seldom show their claws. Feline prints are much more circular and usually wider than they are long, and their feet will usually have a leading toe that slightly extends further than the others – similar to a middle finger on the human hand. Another noticeable difference is a cougar’s heel pad. Felines have three lobes on the back end of their heel pads, almost in the shape of an “M,” while canines only have two, making more of a triangular shape.

As far as size goes, while a coyote’s and cougar’s prints may be similar in length, a cougar’s may be twice as wide. Cougar prints may be four inches in width while a coyote’s is only one and a half to two inches.

***

Note: if you have seen any large cats, black or brown, in Coweta County, especially if you have photographic evidence, contact Times-Herald reporter Wes Mayer at wesley@newnan.com or call 770-253-1576 during weekdays. Photos of tracks are also welcome, but please use some item, preferably a measuring device, to reference the size.



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