The blunt-force killing of a juvenile bobcat last month after it entered a Eugene school prompted enough controversy to trigger a legislative hearing Wednesday at the Capitol in Salem.
The hour-long “fact-finding hearing,” as it was labeled, saw legislators question veterinarians, animal advocates and officials with Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Veterinarian Ingrid Kessler, a member of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, told lawmakers her association does not consider it humane to kill a bobcat with blunt force trauma. She also said such a killing fails to meet the definition of “euthanasia.”
“It’s so outside the bounds of what the guidelines are for,” she said in an interview after the hearing. “It’s more like killing.”
The killing of the animal by Oregon State Police was criticized by many wildlife and animal advocates. They said the cat should have been moved and re-released. Indeed, another bobcat, presumably the first one’s sibling, was removed from the same Eugene school, Oak Hill, the next day, and was released alive.
Public criticism intensified after state police confirmed it had killed the animal with “blunt force trauma,” a method that the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2013 guidelines say is only humane when the animal has a small or underdeveloped skull, and that they discourage using if any other option is available. Since then, wildlife advocates have called the death a “bludgeoning” and asked for more information.
Kessler also told the legislators that the structure of a bobcat’s skull and its brain made it very unlikely the animal could have been killed with a single blow to the head, like state troopers and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife maintain.
However, throughout the House Natural Resources Committee hearing, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife State Veterinarian Colin Gillin maintained that the bobcat was “humanely euthanized.”
Gillin also noted that incidents like this happen all the time but rarely make news. And he said that it’s not uncommon for responding officers to be called upon to kill animals in the field. Both Gillin and Capt. Casey Thomas of the state police’s Fish and Wildlife Division emphasized the pressure of making decisions in the field, and said that the officer who killed the bobcat was acting in the “interest of public safety.”
Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, asked Thomas if the incident had prompted an internal review or investigation by the Oregon State Police. Thomas responded that there was no internal investigation.
When asked the same question, Gillin replied, “Not at ODFW, no, not what we would call one.”
Committee chair, Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, said he intended to create a review committee to look into the practices that wildlife officials and state troopers will use in future interactions with wild animals.
Brooks Fahy, executive director of the wildlife advocacy group Predator Defense, said in an interview that he was encouraged by lawmakers’ convening of a hearing to look into the killing. But it failed to produce answers to most of his questions.
“We still don’t know how the animal died or what they killed it with. We don’t know if it was sick. They never did a necropsy. We don’t even know what happened to its body,” he said.