Metro-East News

Beloved pet bobcat returned to Swansea home after owner pleads guilty, fined

Capone the bobcat was returned to a 44-year-old Swansea woman Tuesday night after she pleaded guilty of keeping a dangerous animal.

Lakesha Mayweather was charged with keeping a dangerous animal and importing live game without a permit. On Tuesday, a judge dismissed the importing charge but she was convicted of keeping a dangerous animal. She was fined $50 and must pay $3,562.14 in restitution, to pay for Capone’s room and board.

“He is so good,” she said by phone on Wednesday. “He’s back to the way he was before, kind of like he never left our house.”

Online fundraisers assisted the family with costs associated with the case.

The conservation officer who initially took Capone, Don Schachner, said on Wednesday that he “genuinely believes she thought she had done things correctly” when Mayweather got her permit and the bobcat.

There are a “couple of exemptions” for exotic animals, Schachner said, although most are not allowed under the state’s wildlife code.

“Realistically (the exemptions) don’t apply to individuals,” he said, but are instead meant for those who rehabilitate animals and allow public viewing of the animals. Payments from the public allow the continued rehabilitation services and allow the animals “to live out their normal lives.”

Since late September when Capone was removed, Mayweather applied for and was granted a Class C federal exhibitor’s permit from the United States Department Agriculture. That permit, which echoed wording in the state wildlife code “although not intended to be that way,” allowed her to possess the animal, Schachner said, but the city of Swansea balked.

The USDA permit is meant for breeders, and the city didn’t want Capone bred, Schachner said.

Capone is neutered.

Capone close up.jpg
Capone is a 2 year old bobcat and on Thursday remained at a wildlife rehabilitation center after being taken from a Swansea family home. Provided photo

After additional language on the court order, the city was satisfied that Mayweather had the proper permits and did not intend to breed Capone.

“It’s a blessing in disguise,” Schachner said of the removal and court interaction. Capone was found to have a diet deficiency that were causing neurological and vision problems. Capone may have died within a year, Schachner was told.

“There’s a specific amino acid bobcats require, that they’re not going to get from process domesticated meats,” he said.

He said Mayweather is “an upstanding individual who would not mistreat the animal, knowingly” and that the USDA inspector had been impressed with her care of the bobcat, which includes a large indoor enclosure.

Mayweather said she will be feeding Capone a “live feed diet” of frozen whole animals and organ meats that will keep him healthy.

“He gained about 2 pounds, I can’t even pick him up anymore,” she said. “That two pounds... he’s very healthy, his coat looks shinier.”

Schachner seemed relieved that Capone was back home.

“Bobcat was returned to them and everybody’s happy,” he said.

Capone is the first animal from the cat family that he can remember encountering as a conservation officer of nearly 20 years, Schachner said. He more often runs into venomous snakes and alligators, which are removed from the home and placed with zoos or rehabilitation facilities across the country. He said the vast majority of people do not have the facilities to properly care for such animals.

“Wild animals are wild because God created them that way ... you cannot truly predict their behavior,” he said, adding that even domestic animals will sometimes behave in unpredictable ways.

He said in this case, Capone had been bought from a breeder and been around humans all its life.

“For lack of a better way to put it, it’s been humanized it’s entire life,” he said.

He said they would have fought to not let her keep Capone had the bobcat been captured in the wild.

Capone with Kesha.jpg
Lakesha Mayweather in an undated photo with Capone, her pet bobcat. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources seized the animal last week; she said she had permits to keep Capone. Provided photo
Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat

Reporter Mary Cooley follows the crimes and court goings-on in the metro-east; she has a special affinity for the oddities that make life in Southern Illinois interesting. Mary has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia and previously worked as a copy editor at newspapers in the Southeast.