Suzy Levenson knew something was off when she opened a can of cat food in her Sharon kitchen Saturday morning and Merlin didn’t immediately come running in.
Merlin, her black cat, was on the window sill in another room, staring into the backyard. Levenson’s 6-year-old daughter, Amelia, was on the phone telling her father, Aaron, about the really big cat Merlin was eyeballing.
“I said, wow, that’s a big cat — that’s not a cat, that’s a bobcat!” Levenson said.
The bobcat heard Levenson’s excited yelling and snapped out of the staring contest with Merlin. It slowly wandered back into the woods, but not before Levenson managed to take a photo.
“This one looked very healthy,” Levenson said. “Very fluffy.”
Tom French, assistant director of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said it did appear to be a bobcat judging from the photo, and was probably a young female, about 18 pounds.
Bobcats usually avoid humans, French said, but they are not rare in Massachusetts.
“Granted, they’re most common from Worcester County west. But they’re getting more and more common all the time, and they’re showing up in eastern suburbia,” French said.
The proliferation of both bobcats and cellphone cameras has led to more confirmed sightings in recent years, French said.
Her husband’s family has lived on Billings Street in Sharon since the 1950s, Suzy Levenson said, and they’ve never seen a bobcat in the neighborhood before.
They have seen plenty of other wildlife in the backyard: deer, turkeys, raccoons, and fisher cats, Levenson said. Before Amelia saw the bobcat, she was telling her father about three snapping turtles she had spotted in the yard.
Levenson said she called police about an hour after she saw the cat, after a suggestion from Aaron’s father, who lives next door.
“We’re not afraid, we’re not scared,” she said, but added, “we’ll take a little bit of extra precaution.”
Sharon police posted a list of tips on the department’s Facebook page, asking residents to secure their pets and not to feed any bobcats.
“In the past we’ve had reports of one being seen but we’ve never had a photograph of it,” Sharon police Sergeant Stephen Coffey said in a phone interview Sunday.
Levenson said she’ll keep the family dog, a 6-pound Maltese named Daisey Mae, on a leash during her walks from now on. And she taught Amelia to wave her arms and call for her if she sees another big cat in the backyard.
In August 2013 , a bobcat was spotted on Cape Cod for the first time since the late 1700s, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife said at the time.
Because most people are not accustomed to seeing the cats, reports can be exaggerated: An adult bobcat, which typically weighs 15 to 35 pounds, is sometimes thought to be a 60-pound bobcat or even a mountain lion.
“They don’t realize how big bobcats look, and they don’t realize how big, really, a mountain lion is,” French said.
Bobcats eat rodents, birds, and medium-sized mammals such as raccoons and squirrels, according to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s website.
They do not normally attack humans, French said, but they might pick off house cats or backyard chickens.
Still, people who see bobcats should keep “a respectful distance,” French said. Do not try to feed, touch, or tame them.
In January 2013 a bobcat attacked a Brookfield man in his garage, leaving scratches and bite marks on his face and back. The bobcat tested positive for rabies, which dramatically alters an animal’s behavior.
In Sharon, police said no bobcat attacks on humans or pets have been reported in the past few days.
“I hope everybody got to appreciate it,” French said. “You’re lucky to see a bobcat, because not many people get a good view.”