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Paw print was dog's, but 'big cat' seen again
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/4/2008 12:06 AM

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Whether a big cat is cruising Lake County remains an unanswered question, with new information on two fronts adding more to the mystery on Thursday.

A cast of a paw print of a large animal taken by North Chicago police was identified as belonging to a dog, not a cat.

Meanwhile, 10 miles west in Round Lake Park, a resident and a police officer reported seeing a "big cat" in the woods.

Thursday's sighting was the third in a week in the county. After an earlier sighting, casts were made of paw prints and sent to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

"There is fairly clear evidence of a toe nail on a toe that is exposed," said Chris McCloud, IDNR spokesman.

Cats retract their claws when they walk, leading a department biologist to conclude the paw print of the animal the cast came from is indicative of a dog.

That does not mean that what a North Chicago police officer and several residents saw was not a cougar, McCloud added.

"We're not discounting what anybody saw. It could very well have been a cougar," he said.

Round Lake Park police Thursday also were wondering what was in their back yard. A resident about 9:30 a.m. reported seeing what appeared to be a "big cat" in the woods near Route 134 and Porter Drive.

A police officer responding to the call saw it, too, said Police Chief George Filenko.

The officer said he saw "a large animal about the size of a large dog but not a dog," Filenko said. It was described as being "dirty brown" in color, with a large head and long tail, he added.

"We do believe our officer saw something that was not a dog," Filenko said. "He said it looked like a large cat. Not a house cat." The animal took off heading west, the officer reported.

Based on reports from North Chicago, including that of a police officer who said a large cat come within 5 feet of his squad car in the parking lot of the police station, Filenko said they were taking no chances and called out their dogs.

"We tracked a scent down into this creek area west and that's where it ended," he said.

A helicopter search was considered, but it was determined the color of the animal would blend into the landscape. Thermal imaging also was discussed but it was determined there were too many deer around to distinguish the animal.

A local school and police in neighboring communities were alerted as a precaution.

"We actually had evidence technicians in the area looking for any possible paw prints and we found none," Filenko said.

Could it have been the same animal seen in North Chicago?

"How do you get from North Chicago to our area? The common link is railroad tracks. If you think about it, it's possible," Filenko said.

There apparently were no organized search efforts under way in either location Thursday. Officials from the Lake County Health Department, which includes animal control, are expected to meet today to discuss possible next steps.

"Even though we don't have proof, with all these sightings, there's something out there," said spokeswoman Leslie Piotrowski.

People can report sightings to the animal control facility at (847) 949-9925.