N.C. Zoo's cougar dies

mquillin@newsobserver.comJanuary 2, 2013 

"Dodger, a 14-year-old cougar at the N.C. Zoo, was euthanized Wednesday following a progressively degenerative joint disease."

TOM GILLESPIE — NC Zoo

The N.C. Zoo lost a longtime resident on Wednesday when veterinarians euthanized a 14-year-old cougar suffering from a severe degenerative joint disease.

“Dodger,” named for the pickpocket in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” was about 13 weeks old when he came to the N.C. Zoo in 1998. Zookeeper and cougar specialist Paul Decker said firefighters responding to a call at a warehouse in Detroit discovered the kitten in a kennel inside the building. Officials confiscated it from the building’s owner, who said the cat had been wandering city streets when he found it.

Decker said it’s possible the man was telling the truth; cougars are one of many exotic pets people can purchase readily, though often illegally.

“They get them as kittens and rapidly discover what a poor choice they’ve made,” Decker said, “And then they just stick them in a cage to live out the rest of their lives, or dump them somewhere on a quiet night.”

In fact, Decker said, Dodger was one of 11 big cats confiscated in an 18-month period in the Detroit area in the late 1990s. Another one, also a male, was brought to the zoo in 1997. That cat, Oliver, is the zoo’s only other cougar.

While the cats tend to be happiest alone, Decker said, Oliver and Dodger got along well, in part because their personalities complemented each other perfectly.

“Oliver is people-oriented, and not food-oriented,” Decker said. “Dodger was the other way ’round.”

So they often played together, and were a favorite attraction at the Cypress Swamp exhibit inside North America at the Zoo.

In the wild, Decker said, including in the western United States, cougars may only live eight to 10 years. At 14, Dodger was a bit of an old-timer.

He began to show signs of illness in the past 18 months or so, Decker said, and had worsened recently. His illness was most akin to osteoarthritis in humans.

Decker said Dodger would not likely be replaced right away, as Oliver, also elderly, would have difficulty adjusting to a new cat.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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