“I called animal control, feeling like a screwball, but I saw what I saw!”

huge cat
Photo by PoPville flickr user angela n.

“Dear PoPville,

This sounds like I need a shrink. But last Friday, I was walking on 7th St SE a block from the SE library and Eastern Market Metro station. I spotted something moving in a dark alley between two homes and when I focused my vision, I saw a large, as large as a golden retriever dog, CAT get up off the ground, turn and flee towards the backyards. The tail was long, black tipped and it touched the ground. The cat was in a dark shaded alley but it appeared to be grey or black. It was silent when it ran. I was so stunned, I stopped in my tracks. My companion saw it too and he wanted to run and find it but I stopped him. I called animal control, feeling like an screwball, but I saw what I saw! Perhaps some real screwball had raised a wild feline in their home and then let it go. I really want to know if anyone else has spotted this “cat”. Animal Control took the report, asking me over and over, the size of the animal I saw and said they would send someone out. Weird!!”

108 Comment

  • DC pizza rat.

  • I wouldn’t say it’s “as large as a golden retriever” but maine coons can get really big – they’re fairly long and tall. They often have a good deal of hair too, making them seem even bigger. Could have been that.

    • Probably a massive possum. I’ve run into some large ones in DC, bigger than cats. Truly gross and horrifying.

      • That block is known to have LARGE possums in residence…. just sayin. (I live there…)

      • Love your neighborhood possums! They do so much for you — they eat ticks, roaches, small rodents, and anything else they feel like eating and they are resistant to rabies. And they are the only marsupial indigenous to the United States.

        Here’s a little poem to think about the next time you see a possum:

        I’m a pretty little possum with a pretty pink nose.
        With solid black ears and sharp little toes.
        I love to eat ticks and I love to eat mice.
        So if you see me tonight would be kinda nice?
        I mean you no harm, never have, never will.
        And if you’d cut an apple it would give me a thrill.
        I’ll keep coming back on guard and patrol
        for the other “real” pest that I’ll try to eat whole.
        –Rob Goodwin

        • YES! Thank you for supporting and depending possums. They get the worst rep! But they deserve so much better.

        • I revise my opinion and will humbly bow before our possum overlords.
          My negatively stems from the fact that I’ve turned a corner or they’ve emerged from the bushes right in front of me in the middle of the night. They are large, dark/shadowy, and have those beady glowing eyes. Scared the living crap out of me. But yes, they are more than happy to keep far away from people.

  • Whoa, cool! Panthers are super endangered, so I hope someone can return it to a safer place. It’s not unheard of for them to wander into cities, I don’t think. But super rare, so lucky you!!

    • I can’t tell if this is sarcasm or not. I mean. A panther? Panthers do not live in North America. Cougars and mountain lions do, but neither are likely in this area. Cougars are all but extinct in this part of North America.

      • Actually a panther is just an all-black variant of any number of big cat species, including cougars and jaguars.

        • Actually, a cougar is from the puma genus, not the panthera genus. Both big cats, but not the same species.

          • Fair enough, but my main point is that panthers do live in North America.

          • Again, just to be fair here really, the “panthers” that live in North America (endangered Florida panthers, for example) are not actually panthers, they are pumas/cougars/mountain lions and are not genetically related to what are actually cats in the panthera family. Other than the Florida panther, there are no cats called panthers in North America. And there are no cats in the genus panthera in North America. They are all Asian of South/Central America.

            Sorry, I’m being picky here, but as someone who studies this kind of stuff, it’s annoying when people are blithely unaware of what are actual genetic differences among these species.

          • Jesus Christ.

          • Give it a rest already.

          • Funny to know so much about taxonomy and so little about the English language. Next you’ll tell me that red pandas aren’t actually pandas and my world will end…

          • justinbc

            They’re not red either, more of an orange / amber if you ask me.

      • They’re all the same. Cougars, mountain lions, panthers, catamounts, pumas… all the same cat, with some color variation. And yes, as I said, super endangered, but not unheard of.
        I don’t see the value in questioning what I wasn’t there to see, just because it’s unlikely. If the poster says she/he saw a 60+ pound cat, I say “cool!”

        • Cougars and mountain lions are the same cat, yes. And they are both the same as pumas. But a panther is not only a different species, it’s a different genus altogether. In fact a tiger is actually more closely related to a panther than a cougar is.

        • Didn’t I just tell you to stop making up animals?

      • panthers, mountain lions, cougars and pumas are all part of the same animal subspecies and their names can be interchangeable.

        • No, they are not. I mean you can interchange the names if you choose, but that does not mean you are correct, from a taxonomy perspective.

          • Actually, hate to burst your bubble – but you’re wrong. Panthers, mountain lions, cougars and pumas are all from the puma concolor species. And are therefore, interchangeable. Yes, their colorations or sizes can be different depending on where they are located. The panthera genus consists of tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards.

          • Huh, it’s almost as if there were some disagreement over appropriate terms for non-zoologists to use for big cats. As if there could be more than one acceptable answer. As if we could all agree that big cats in the US might go by any of several names, and that intelligent people might understand one another anyway… Fascinating.

          • Common names don’t necessarily reflect taxonomy, which is one of the biggest differences between the two concepts.

      • “Panthers do not live in North America”

        So many things wrong with that statement. For starters, ever heard of a Florida panther?

        • Yes, it’s a puma, not a panther. It’s incorrectly named and not a member of the panthera species. Please stop coming for me on this. I have a very strong basis for knowing what I’m talking about here.

          • Truxtoner, I think the problem here is that when people refer to “panthers” they are just using colloquial American terminology, not the scientific taxonomic terminology (ie “panthera” genus). Both can be right, in a sense. I’d just let it go.

          • Fine. You’re all right. Panthers are pumas (they aren’t) and panda bears are bears and whatever people want to call things is exactly what they are!

            F*** science!

          • And a tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifer) isn’t really a poplar (genus Populus), and a red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) isn’t really a cedar (genus Cedrus). This is giving me a PTSD flashback to my Wikipedia editing days, when I struggled with another editor who insisted there could only be one “correct” common name for any species and that common names had to reflect taxonomy, both of which are basically the antithesis of what a “common name” is in the first place. (I’m a botanist by training, BTW.)

          • You are correct, DC Tropics. But there are almost no zoologists who would call a cougar or mountain lion a panther. Puma? Maybe. But there are also generally biological differences between cougars and mountain lions and other animals that are rightfully called panthers (jaguars, leopards).

            I would probably have argued that panther isn’t even a common name for cougars or mountain lions. But I guess based on the popville commentariat, plenty of people do think they are all panthers.

          • Or, Truxtoner, I can email the many big cat experts I work with on a daily basis and confirm what I already know to be true. I know it’s hard to believe that other people in the world can have such particular knowledge as well. I’m not just a random person on the internet Googling this information. I work with specific animal information for my job and routinely seek out, and collaborate with specific species experts to make sure my information is factual.

          • A panther is like a Leopard, except it hasn’t been peppered. If you behold a Panther crouch, prepare to say ouch. Better yet, if called by a Panther, don’t anther. (Ogden Nash is my expert here!)

          • Ogden Nash was right. Kallie is not. Despite her alleged expertise. Come at me, Kallie. I’m also not a random google sleuth on this subject. I also do not need to email anyone.

          • justinbc

            Which begs the question, can a leopard truly change his shorts?

          • Your knowledge appears to be quite arbitrary to me and is not 100% factual. I also don’t need to email anyone to know I’m right – but I do have the resources to know I can. Panthers (in the sense we are speaking of here, mountain lions, etc) are literally not even a part of the panthera genus. Confusing, I know. Black panthers on the other hand, are the variation, that are part of the panthera genus. Please, do not act like you are totally right on this, when they are many species of cat and they are all classified in different ways.

          • Well Kallie, I think that you just repeated what I’ve said above then it kind of shows that even you think I am right. Yes, mountain lions are not in the panthera genus (not family as you stated), they are pumas. Like I said. Repeatedly. That they aren’t in the panthera genus and so are not the same as the cats that actually are panthers that are in the panthera genus (jaguars, for example). I am also aware that you’re referring to mountain lions as panthers. That’s really the only issue I’ve taken with any of this because they aren’t panthers. They are not, as you claimed, in the same subspecies with other panthers (jaguars, etc.). They are pumas. I recognize as others have noted that this is a taxonomic distinction, which of course means it’s also a genetic distinction as well. And there are people who would say that calling them panthers is a mistake, even if a commonly made one. The point being they aren’t the same cats as the ones that are actually panthers. Period. I at least respect the others who have argued with me over the common use versus taxonomy point, but you’re trying to argue the taxonomy point and are just wrong about it.

          • Oh, bless your heart that you think I’m agreeing with you. Which I am clearly not. We are going to have to agree to disagree. I will just feel good that I am not spreading incorrect facts into the world.

          • Tsar of Truxton

            I don’t know about all this, but I do know that Cougars can be found all over DC ;-p.

        • I Dont Get It

          I know, right. My high school’s nickname was “Panthers” and I can’t imagine we would be named after some non-Amurican animal.

        • You win, Truxtoner! And I have learned something new, thank you. I was thinking of “painters,” which is the old-timey name for the big cats that lived in this area in the settler days, and a regional pronunciation of “panther”. But of course, our early settlers didn’t know much about taxonomy, so they’re not the best source. 🙂

      • Even assuming that a puma or mountain lion is not considered a panther, this statement is incorrect. There are jaguars that live in North America, including at least one that has crossed the Mexico-US border.

  • It was just a Pokemon.

  • We do have hybrid cats here, like Savannahs, bengals and ocicats, that can grow quite large. (One of my own cats is a Bengal mix) It’s possible one of them slipped out.

  • However, if the cat was grey or black in appearance, it could be a mountain lion or other wild cat. We do have those here as well.

  • Seems like every few years around here someone *swears* they saw a mountain lion. There were even fliers up here in NE (near the Arboretum) two to three years ago: “A MOUNTAIN LION IS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”. Yup, in all caps, just like that. Hogwash. Don’t believe a word of it.

  • I’m sure the folks that spotted the red panda before the zoo announced his escape thought they were seeing things as well. Always best to report it. Hopefully the big guy gets home safe

    • That red panda learned from prior animals’ mistakes and fled. We the People sent it back to the zoo. smdh.

  • There are plenty of stories about high level drug dealers keeping exotic cats in their homes; I feel like we don’t have that level of kingpin in DC, but it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility that someone brought one to the city and it could have escaped.
    Also, has anyone checked the zoo for escaped big cats lately? It’s a little far, but if the red pandas can do it…

  • If you are serious about this, talk to the zoo. They are going to have experts who can weigh in on what you may have seen. You may want to also ask some of the folks whose homes are along the alley if they have security footage.

  • maxwell smart

    is that an ocelot?

  • Could have been a cougar AKA mountain lion. One showed in Chicago a few years ago after following a river from Wisconsin.


  • justinbc

    Thundercats reboot viral marketing

  • Is it a coyote? I saw one a few years ago near my old office in Rosslyn.

    • Dogs and cats move VERY differently. I saw a coyote many years ago in Mt. Pleasant, and even in the dark, it was unmistakable as a dog. A weird and wild dog, for sure, but a dog nonetheless.

  • whoa, i wonder if it was a panther!

  • It is prolly a Savannah. They are large spotted domestic cats. can be the size of a small (30 pound) dog.

  • The Eastern Puma Research Network needs to hear from you!

  • I dated someone once who owned a Bobcat. Raised it from a baby, so the cat loved him. He kept it in a pen outside his kitchen window and would open the window for the cat to come into the house and eat its food. One morning he left the house and I decided to feed the cat by myself. As soon as that thing was inside and jumped up on the kitchen table, I knew it was a mistake. She circled that table looking me over like she was going to attack. Then she jumped in the dog’s food bowl and rolled around in it (spreading her scent on the dog’s food). I finally got her back outside by throwing apples out the window (apples were a treat for her). My heart was pounding. that thing could have torn me to shreds and eaten the evidence.

  • Andie302

    I came to see what all the comments could possibly be about. Two words: Cat fight!

  • This thread is remarkable. Wow. Made my day.

    FWIW, I bet he saw a bobcat.

    Or, the Beast of Bladenboro on a trip north.

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