A Searcy couple will have to wait until Nov. 3 to find out the fate of their pet bobcat, Booger. Searcy City Attorney Buck Gibson said Hillary Ellis pleaded not guilty Thursday. It was her first appearance in court on this matter.
Joe Ellis said he was not allowed in the White County District Court-Searcy Division courtroom for the scheduled hearing Thursday. He said only his wife, Hillary, was allowed in. Ellis said he was going to have to hire an attorney.
The Ellis family attended a Searcy City Council agenda meeting last month to tell their side of the story about a ticket they received from Searcy Animal Control, saying they have to give it up. Hillary Ellis said they have had Booger since he was just under 6 weeks old and they got him from a breeder in Tennessee.
"He's 100 percent domesticated," Ellis told the council members as they looked through a packet of information that she provided them with on all of Booger's vet records and pictures of him in his enclosure in their backyard that is also fenced. Booger is just under 20 pounds.
Ellis said Booger "is part of our family. Never one time has he been let out to roam freely in our yard or home. You would have to go through a gate and three doors to access him. He was born in captivity and is completely domesticated."
Ellis told the council that Searcy Animal Control showed up at their house May 18 to inform them it had received a call about a wild bobcat that they had running around. She said she assured them that they did not have a wild animal running around anywhere in their yard or in their home.
Ellis said she was told by animal control that there was absolutely no reason for concern and she thought that would be the end of it but the following day, two officers showed up at the Ellis home and said they had been instructed to issue her a ticket and ordered "immediate removal of my pet."
Ellis said her husband left work early that day and had a conversation with Searcy City Attorney Buck Gibson. Ellis said Gibson "was extremely rude and hateful" to her husband. "He was very clear that he said he was interpreting a city ordinance to say that we could not keep our pet."
She brought information to the meeting from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, reading "you can safely have up to six bobcats either born in captivity or even taken from the wild as pets. They must also be in an enclosure, which our pet is. It also says we should provide a paper showing ownership. They also said we are not allowed to release the bobcat into the wild. We are also not allowed to sell or give them to another owner."
Gibson, Ellis said, "has been very vocal about the fact that he, and he alone, is the one interpreting this ordinance according to his sole opinion to read that our pet is as wild as a cougar and he wants us fines and our pet removed immediately.
The Ellis family brought letters of support from neighbors, supporting them for keeping Booger as their pet.
Gibson told Ellis that "it's not a civil proceeding, it's a criminal matter. In fact, each day any such wild animal remains on the property shall constitute a separate offense."