In a story that has recently gone viral, Cincinnati police officers responded several months ago to a call of a cat stuck in a tree, but it was anything but ordinary.
According to officials with a local animal shelter, an exotic cat with cocaine in its system fled police and jumped up a tree earlier this year and is now recovering at the Cincinnati Zoo.
The incident, which has only recently gone public due to legal reasons, took place in January.
Cincinnati Animal Care officials who were called to assist police said the serval — named Amiry — escaped its owner’s car during a traffic stop and jumped into a nearby tree.
“We got called in to get the cat out of the tree,” Anderson said.
Anderson said authorities at first thought the animal was a leopard.
“[They weren’t] sure what they were dealing with,” Anderson said. “Hindsight being 20/20, it probably would have involved a whole lot more people.”
It is illegal to own servals. The wild cat, native to Sub-Saharan Africa, can grow up to three times the size of a house cat and weigh up to 40 pounds. They can also jump seven feet in the air.
In this case, the 35-pound cat was eventually detained after much difficulty but was, unfortunately, injured in the process.
“In the process of getting the cat out of the tree … obviously, the cat didn’t want to get out of the tree … and our officers were working really hard to make sure they didn’t lose the cat in the process. Yeah, the leg was broken in the process,” Anderson said.
After being rescued, officers contacted an exotic cat expert, who was amazed that they were able to capture the animal.
Anderson said the expert told them he would “rather deal with a tiger.”
Medical staff at Cincinnati Animal Care then tested the serval’s physical health and treated his leg.
Surprisingly, a toxicology report showed traces of cocaine in the animal’s system, but it’s unclear how the drug was ingested.
“It did come back positive for cocaine,” Anderson said. “Now, we can’t say how the animal got the cocaine in the system. I don’t know if it was environmental or experimental.”
According to Anderson, it is standard protocol for their shelter to test for narcotics for animals showing certain signs.
“Of course, we also test for narcotics on any dog or cat displaying behaviors that would lead us down that path,” Anderson said. “Amiry was extremely agitated at the time he was with us, which is understandable given what he had been through that morning, but we were able to sedate and treat before transporting to the [Cincinnati] Zoo.”
The Hamilton County dog warden considered pressing charges on the cat’s owner but eventually decided against it.
“Everybody was very cooperative in this case, and we didn’t feel it was necessary,” Anderson said.
Months later, Amiry is still recovering at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
Officials at Cincinnati Animal Care said that in order to get Amiry placed at the zoo as soon as possible, they needed the owner to relinquish ownership of the cat without initiating a lawsuit.
Officials with the animal shelter said the cat’s owner was cooperative and paid for its care until the transfer of ownership was finalized.
“The serval has been receiving veterinary care in our animal health center since he was brought here. He’s doing well, and the next step will be for our Cat Ambassador Program team to work with him and determine if he’s a good fit to be an ambassador animal. He will likely be behind the scenes for a while,” a zoo spokesperson said in a statement.
The story has since gone viral, in part due to the release of the recent film Cocaine Bear, a true story about a wild bear that accidentally consumed cocaine.
Linda Castaneda, the lead trainer of the zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program, said Amiry is now undergoing an adjustment period at his new home.
“Amiry is young and very curious. He is exploring his new space and eating well, both great signs of progress,” Castañeda said. “We are working on building trust and increasing his comfort as he adjusts to his new home.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture is currently investing Amiry’s owner. The case remains open pending further evidence.