July 13th, 2020


Listen to the tales of Southern women and killer cats: The life you save may be your own

John Kass

By John Kass

Published June 25,2018

Listen to the tales of Southern women and killer cats: The life you save may be your own

The average bobcat has muscular shoulders, a strong neck, razor claws and a mouthful of sharp teeth. But it's no match for the likes of DeDe Phillips of Georgia. (Chuck Berman / Chicago Tribune)

The thing you must realize about rabid killer cats and the brave Southern women who've fought them to the death is this:

The heroic women are compelling.

And their laconic way of putting things is just perfect, as if they're characters in some Southern Gothic story by Flannery O'Connor. And their tales involve murderous cats going for the jugular.

These are not your cat ladies. These are your survivors.

"Well, there was a big telephone pole. I just got it by the tail and whipped it around the pole," Isabelle Blankenship, 85, of Roanoke, Va., once told this column about the killer rabid cat she whomped on that pole.

She was in her robe and slippers, picking up the morning paper in her driveway, when the cat, named Mr. Scruffkins, attacked her. It was either fight or die.

She grabbed that tail and began whirling like a Virginia dervish. Courage and scientifically applied centrifugal force vanquished her mortal foe.

"That kind of knocked it out," she said of the whomping. "And they took me to the hospital. Everything is fine now. I am taking rabies shots."

Did you scream as you whomped it?

"Well, no, I fought it, but it wasn't no use for screaming," she said.

I fought it, but it wasn't no use for screaming.

A sentiment that should be carved in marble in a pantheon of heroes.

And now comes DeDe Phillips, a youngish grandmother from Hart County in northeast Georgia who walked outside her home on a recent evening to take a photo of a bumper sticker she'd applied to her truck:

"Women who behave rarely make history."

That's when she spotted the bobcat. She took a photo of the predator instead of the bumper sticker. It moved toward her. It did not have a cute name like Mr. Scruffkins.

"I thought, 'Not today.' There was no way I was going to die," she told Wayne Ford, a reporter for AthensOnline, in a riveting tale.

I admit I'm partial to these stories. I grew up on "Outdoor Life" magazine and its classic illustrated "This Happened to Me!" feature.

These were mostly survival tales involving hunters, fishermen and "axe wielding housewives," according to the editors. The bobcat fight would fit right in.

No feral or house cat could stand up to a bobcat. Most dogs would run if they had a brain. Your North American bobcat can weigh around 20 pounds. They're vicious and strong. Their short legs give them power. The average bobcat has muscular shoulders, a strong neck, razor claws and a mouthful of sharp teeth.

"My neighbor's dog was barking and it drew my attention," Phillips, 46, told Ford. "I saw the cat and I took a picture. The cat took two steps and was on top of me. . . . It came for my face."

The things you think about when a bobcat is trying to kill you. Like, in Phillips' case, your father-in-law.

She said her father-in-law had been a trapper of bobcats. How the woodsman's knowledge was passed down, whether around the dinner table or just sitting on the porch, I can't say.

But she remembered the important thing he told her: They go for the throat. And she was ready.

"They go for your jugular . . . because when they can get the vein you're dead in a couple of minutes," she said.

The bobcat did indeed go for her upper body and he caught her in the face.

"But I got him before he could do much damage there," she told Ford. "I took it straight to the ground and started inching my hands up to its throat. I knew that was the only way I was getting out of this."

Picture it. The bobcat, biting and scratching, then both of them rolling on the ground as she worked her hands up his body, her arms and face taking the brunt of the damage from those razor-sharp claws.

Phillips was trying to get to the cat's throat before he got to hers.

But there's another part, so picture this too: She didn't make a sound. I'd have been dead already, lying there moaning and shrieking. But not a peep came out of her mouth during her life-or-death fight.

Her 5-year-old granddaughter was inside the house, and the last thing Phillips wanted was for the child to hear screams and come running.

So they fought to the death in the dirt in silence.

Southern women. What can you say?

"I was scared if I screamed for help that my granddaughter would come out and I didn't want that to happen," Phillips said.

She got her hands around the cat's powerful neck and started squeezing and choked the life out of him. Then she yelled for her daughter-in-law to call 911, but she didn't let go.

Her son showed up with a gun. But still, Phillips wouldn't let go. She wasn't sure that bobcat was dead.

So he pulled out a knife and stabbed it a few times just to make sure.

"But it never budged so I knew it was completely dead," she said.

Yes, it was dead. But she was alive.

The tenaciousness of these Southern women is something we can all learn from. Because, like the title of a Flannery O'Connor story, the life you save may be your own.

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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM.