PETALUMA, Calif. - A mountain lion appears to be getting comfortable in Petaluma; the bit cat was spotted several times in 24 hours.
"I thought it was a really funny-looking big dog," said Dana Street resident Arlene Luchok, who spotted the wildcat in her yard just before 6 a.m. Wednesday morning. "Then I started saying 'it's a huge cat, a huge cat', and my husband looks out the window and says that's a mountain lion!"
The couple called 911, summoning police officers and animal control staff to the neighborhood near Petaluma High School and Helen Putnam Park.
The area is minutes from downtown, but also offers hundreds of acres of open space.
"We get a lot of people who go on early morning hikes and walk their dogs all over this neighborhood," said Luchoff, worried for unsuspecting neighbors.
"It's pretty creepy and I have a 3-year-old so I'm thinking about all the possibilities of what could go wrong," said resident Aaron Beatrice.
Two more sightings Wednesday afternoon kept police in the area, to make sure people were aware of the big cat.
"The last thing I want is to be jogging with a mountain lion following me," said resident Fred Dickson. "With a mountain lion, you want to be big and noisy and look like you're not tasty."
There were other sightings Tuesday night, and while police believe it's the same animal, they can't be completely sure.
"It's pretty unusual for them to show themselves, they're pretty sneaky," said Petaluma Police Sgt. Rick Cox.
The first call came from a driver on the 101 freeway.
"Somebody called to say they almost hit a cat, that it was crossing the freeway and jumped the fence on the east side," said Cox.
Responding officers spotted it behind the DMV in the Southpoint Commercial Park but it gave them the slip.
"We thought we had it contained but it got through and disappeared," said Cox.
And assuming it was the same cat, it had to dash across the freeway again or follow a frontage road to get to the west side neighborhood where it appeared Wednesday.
Acting on the advice of experts, police plan to try to guide the mountain lion with as little intervention as possible.
"We want to direct it to go back up into the hills and to basically leave it alone and not get involved with it unless it's cornered," said Cox.
The Luchoks, after witnessing the wildcat, checked their home surveillance and discovered video of it walking in their back yard.
"It jumped a fence, knocked down some plants, and trampled my vegetable garden," said Arlene, showing the cat's meandering path from backyard to front.
"I'm certainly going to look outside a little longer before I step out early in the morning going to work," smiled Luchok.
With numerous mountain lion sightings all over the Bay Area this summer, wildlife officers say this is the time of year they migrate searching for food and water.
They may be wandering further than usual due to the drought and a shrinking deer population.