ROYAL OAK, Mich. (WXYZ) — "To those cats, that's their mom," said Heather Ineich about the bond between four caracals and their owner, Elaine Westfall.
It was Ineich who safely trapped Westfall's caracal named "Bam Bam" Wednesday after he escaped his elaborate enclosure in the backyard of Westfall's home in Royal Oak.
Ineich used meats to lure the caracal inside the large trap she frequently uses to recover other animals including dogs and foxes.
After Bam Bam was back home, Royal Oak Police encouraged Westfall to seek an alternate home for the exotic-looking cats by Monday because once word spread that the caracal has gotten loose last Wednesday, they said parents and administrators at a nearby school panicked, prompting students to spend recess indoors.
On Monday, the caracals were still at Westfall's home and she was consulting an attorney about her next steps and options.
Ineich is encouraging Westfall to keep her cats and has helped guide her on steps to take to ensure they don't get loose again.
"The enclosure is great," Ineich said. "It was just a simple mistake of a padlock not being put on.. and then you have a juvenile cat that wants to get into trouble like teenagers do."
Royal Oak Police Lieutenant Al Carter said they did issue five citations to Westfall for failing to keep a pet confined for this escape and previous ones because of the "public alarm" it caused.
Carter said there have now been three incidents of one of Westfall's cats escaping and a citation is issued for each cat that is involved.
Ineich pointed out that in none of the escapes was a person or pet attacked.
"These cats are not dangerous," she said. "They didn't approach anybody. They didn't do anything to anybody. These are someone's pets."
But Detroit Zoological Society Scott Carter says this situation should not be taken lightly.
"Caracal is particularly dangerous, especially to people with small dogs or other cats," Carter said. "They are capable of doing significant harm, especially to a child. They can certainly harm an adult if they feel threatened."
A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said there are no state restrictions to possessing and owning caracals, but that there may be local restrictions.
Police said there is no local ordinance that prohibits Westfall from having her caracals.
"According to the DNR, this particular species does not fall under the exotic cat classification and is unregulated," police said in a statement.
"These cats are absolutely amazing and nonconfrontational," Ineich said. "I just think that the public's misconception of what's going on is half of the problem with the chaos that's surrounding it because they don't know them. And, you know, we're always afraid of things that we don't know or that are different."