Couple save bobcat kitten that ran into traffic on Laguna Canyon Road

by in News

LAGUNA BEACH — Kimberly and Clay Leeds were driving in heavy traffic along Laguna Canyon Road shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26 when they saw a flash of fur run toward the center of the road.

“I saw a car swerve to the left and then I saw it was a baby bobcat,” said Clay Leeds, a longtime Laguna local. “It was a big baby and I saw the markings.”

He put on his flashers and parked the car at the side of the road near the Laguna Beach Dog Park. Then he and his wife, a naturalist, jumped out toward the traffic, frantically waving their arms to get drivers to stop.

The bobcat kitten was trying to move across traffic. As it did, it ran directly under a car headed west along the roadway.

Kimberly and Clay Leeds rescued a baby bobcat on Sunday, twice stopping traffic on Laguna Canyon Road. The  couple believed that the cat had a leg injury and was clearly exhausted. (Photo courtesy of Jen Swanson)

“We begged them not to move and asked if they had a beach umbrella,” said Kimberly Leeds.

The motorist stopped his car and handed them his umbrella. Clay used the umbrella to reach the kitten — which popped out from under the car and ran toward a hill on the other side of the road, at the border of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

“It seemed extremely exhausted and it looked like it had an injured paw,” Kimberly said.

The couple called the Laguna Beach Police Department requesting animal control. As they waited, the kitten attempted another crossing.

“It darted back onto the road,” Kimberly said. “It was sprawling in the middle of the road, exhausted and hurt.”

The couple again stopped traffic in both directions.

Jen Swanson was in the first car stopped by the Leeds, recognizing Kimberly as a substitute teacher at Laguna’s Top of the World Elementary School.

Swanson saw the bobcat darting and weaving in the road, and recalled thinking it was someone’s house cat.

“When it stopped and laid down, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that must be a baby bobcat’ — it wasn’t just someone’s little kitty. Someone gave Kimberly a (towel) and she knew what to do.”

Kimberly remembered a technique she learned as a kid volunteering at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center to help get sea lions under control.

Kimberly and Clay Leeds rescued a baby bobcat that was then treated by a local wildlife veterinarian. (Photo courtesy of Clay Leeds)

“While Clay had its attention, I threw the towel over its face so it couldn’t get away,” she said. “Then I covered up its claws. It was growling at me but it was a baby. I wrapped it up and then transferred it to a blanket.”

The couple waited for Laguna Beach Animal Control to arrive and handed over the cat.

The bobcat kitten was taken to Dr. Scott Weldy, a Lake Forest veterinarian, who is Orange County’s go-to expert for wild animals.

For the Leeds, the whole experience was uplifting.

“They don’t have a lot of space to live in anymore,” Kimberly said. “My husband and I did what came natural.”

Brad Baker, a senior park ranger at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, spoke with Kimberly Leeds on Wednesday about her effort.

“You definitely have to know what you’re doing,” he said, referring to the rescue. “Kimberly Leeds was comfortable doing it. Bobcats can be feisty but it was up to her to make that decision. She was careful and protected herself.”

Baker said he and others at the county park are anxious to hear how the kitten recovers.

“A lot of times by the time you catch a wild animal, it may not be doing so well,” he said.

When Swanson got home, she emailed Kimberly a photo she took of the rescue.

“It was a cool thing to witness,” she said.