(USA Today) STAFFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J.— Who's the daddy of a 38-pound kitty that was wandering around this area in early April?
The answer to that question may never be known.
For that reason Rocky, a cat who's supposed to be a cross between a bobcat and a Maine coon but was suspected of being a purebred bobcat, can go home.
That was Municipal Court Judge Damian G. Murray's surprise ruling Friday as Rocky's owner, Ginny Fine, waited to hear results of a DNA test on her 3-year-old feline.
If the DNA test had revealed that Rocky was pure bobcat — males can weigh as much as 40 pounds while male Maine coon cats can tip the scales at more like 25 pounds — Fine would not have been allowed to have him back. New Jersey bans residents from owning "potentially dangerous species" as pets, which includes nondomestic cats, and she would have had to qualify for a special permit generally not issued to nonprofessionals.
But a bobcat hybrid is just considered a big kitty under state law.
Murray revealed the results of a mitochondrial DNA analysis performed on Rocky's blood at the Northeast Wildlife DNA Laboratory at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.
"The mother was determined to be a bobcat," Murray said, noting that the DNA test revealed Rocky's mother was 98% lynx rufus, or bobcat.Mitochnodrial DNA is inherited exclusively from the mother, so the DNA test revealed nothing about Rocky's father.
The test could not determine who Rocky's father was, and the Montana breeder from whom Fine obtained Rocky was not required to keep records of the animal's lineage, Murray said.
"The bottom line is Rocky goes home," the judge said.
The ruling caught Fine off guard. But she's ecstatic despite having just pleaded guilty to letting the animal get loose and being fined $1,000.
"I'm shocked," Fine said later. "I was not expecting that."
She said her house cats, Elsie and Checkers, will be happy to see Rocky, who has been declawed.
"They miss him terribly," Fine said. "Elsie has been walking around the house, looking in all the rooms for him."
Fine hopes to pick up Rocky on Monday from the Associated Humane Societies' Popcorn Park Zoo in Lacey, N.J., where the big cat has been kept since April 7. Officials there already had determined that Rocky has a domestic temperament, something Fine had told the judge.
Animal control officers brought Rocky to Popcorn Park Zoo a day after Fine had lured him back home. He had gotten loose March 25.
Murray ordered that Rocky be kept in an enclosure that officials from New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife will inspect periodically.
"It is something I don't have a problem doing if I can have the cat back," Fine told the judge.
Outside the courtroom, she said the enclosure already has been constructed with money donated by people who want to see Rocky return home.
Animal Control Officer Kelly Karch said it will be inspected Monday
In imposing the $1,000 fine, Murray said the hunt for Rocky incurred labor expenses for police officers, who were "all over this town, hunting through the woods" for Rocky. It was the second time Rocky had run away.
Fine also had to pay $216 in restitution to Stafford Veterinary Hospital for tranquilizer medication used during an attempt to capture Rocky the second time.
But Rocky is still not out of the woods: Murray said he could be subject to seizure in the future if his father can be determined to be a bobcat.