Bobcat owner protests county's exotic cat ban

"Lady, one of Lussmyer's bobcats, plays with a wad of newspaper while keeping a cautious eye on a visitor.Jim Larsen/staff photoWith two cranky bobcats in his basement, John Lussmyer doesn't have the time or money he needs to fight a county law he believes to be unjust.The bobcats, by county ordinance, are technically illegal. But Lussmyer said he's gotten around that problem by obtaining an exhibitor's license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But he worries about other owners of exotic cats in Island County and the problems they face with the law.For example, Tiffany Cartier of Bayview earlier this month lost her African serval when it escaped from her house and ran away. She's been trying to catch it, but if she ever does she'll have to get rid of it because it violates the county's ordinance prohibiting exotic cats. Cartier said she plans to give it to a friend on the mainland.Lussmyer lives in a log house he built on 20 acres in the Greenbank area. Burly and bearded, he looks more like a mountain man than the computer programmer he really is. He rides big old Honda motorcycles to his job in Mill Creek and spends the weekends fixing them in his shop.Right now, his main hobby is his two bobcats, who at ages 11 and 13 are well past middle age. He got them from a breeder who went out of business, saving them from a worse fate. They're mine now, Lussmyer said. The best you can do is give them a nice place to live, and then look at them. Bobcats are not warm and cuddly animals. I like them, but I'd like 'em better if I could pet 'em, he said. The bobcats are being kept in a large, clean cage in Lussmyer's basement until he can get their outdoor pen built. The male, Jinx, sits and watches curiously when Lussmyer unlocks the cage, but the female, Lady, sits up, hisses, growls and spits, perhaps because there's also a stranger with a camera in the room. Lussmyer tosses a wad of newspaper on a string for her to play with, and she bats it around with her declawed paws while keeping one wary eye on the stranger.Lussmyer is the only Whidbey Island member of the Alliance for the Conservation of Exotic Felines, a regional club of wild cat owners. Lussmyer is secretary/treasurer, Jeannie Hall of Chehalis is president and Charlie Frazier of Seattle is vice president.Lussmyer laughs that there was another Whidbey Island member, but she dropped out because she could never make the meetings.Island County banned wild cats a few years ago when it was also regulating hybrid wolves. Lussmyer claims the cat ban was inappropriate and came with little public notice. The only reason the Island County exotic cat ban is still on the books is that nobody has the money to fight it, he said. His research shows that nationally, wild cats are on average less dangerous than many breeds of dogs.Lussmyer likes big dogs, hybrid wolves and exotic cats. The hybrid wolf regulations came after animals owned by Joe Berendt escaped from a temporary pen near Langley. One of them was shot by a concerned neighbor. Later, Lussmyer provided a place for Berendt to keep his wolf dogs.Lussmyer doesn't oppose county rules to regulate wild cats, as has been done with hybrid wolves. But he's against the present ban. Outright bans are dumb, he said. But he just spent $1,000 on bobcat dentistry, so he has no immediate plans to launch a legal challenge against the law. Nobody with (exotic) cats has any money, he said.Join the clubExotic cat owners in Island County are welcome to inquire about the Alliance for the Conservation of Exotic Cats. Call John Lussmyer in Greenbank, 360-222-3068.The club provides information about how to care for exotic cats in the areas of caging, food requirements and health care, and offers advice on laws that regulate or prohibit the ownership of wild cats."

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