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A game-saving tackle snatches victory from the jaws of defeat

In the matchup of the traditional rivals — coyote vs. cat — Billy Silva of Mammoth Lakes makes the biggest play.

June 19, 2013|Chris Erskine

MAMMOTH LAKES -- This is only tangentially a sports story, but what passes for sports these days — the lockouts, the TV deals — could make you spit your teeth out, right?

Rest assured that we'll be talking about speed, agility and arguably one of the most memorable tackles of all time — a perfectly placed torpedo, Butkusian in grandeur and effect.

The opponent was a real animal, as they say. That the tackle saved a life only adds to the budding legend, which has been the talk of this town for weeks.

Billy Silva was out walking his cats … wait, what kind of guy walks cats? Seriously, what kind of guy even has a cat? OK, never mind your preconceived notions of cat lovers. Let's move on.

So Silva is out walking his cats — yes, you can walk cats, he says; they started on harnesses and now stay near him the way dogs do. That Silva has cats is even more of a disconnect than you might think, for he is a former paratrooper, with a combat aviation battalion out of Ft. Bragg, guys who could really ruin an enemy picnic.

Probably not a typical cat lover, but most cat lovers aren't all that typical anyway. Got custody of the cats, Snafu and Fubar, in a divorce. Taught them to stay close and respond to verbal commands.

There's the setup, the ex-paratrooper walking his cats on Memorial Day weekend in Mammoth Lakes, up just before the morning sun. Silva likes to get up early, obviously. Once in the military, always in the military.

An avid outdoorsman, he also likes long trail runs, four hours, 10 to 12 miles, which help keep him in shape since he left the service. Now 49, he's a chef at Petra's in the Alpenhof Lodge, and still speaks with the nasal undertones of New England — hockey comes out haaawky, and chowder comes out ... well, you know.

This particular Sunday started as just another stroll with the cats, one of the three walks their owner gives them a day, when Snafu darted around the corner and Silva heard a horrible screech.

"The coyote had him down on the ground, and he started to whip him around," Silva explains. "He had him around the neck the way a mountain lion has a deer."

At this point, Silva is 10 to 15 feet away.

"Snafu was fighting," Silva recalls, "and the coyote went down on his front paws and I knew I had one shot to head him off and tackle him."

Silva lives right in town, among the A-frames of Mono Street, but it's wooded there, and he was afraid the coyote was about to drag the cat off for breakfast.

"I didn't hesitate. I just slid in — you know how you go head-first into first base?

"My left forearm had the coyote pinned, and I'm hitting him with my right."

After a few seconds, the coyote released the cat, then turned on Silva, cutting him on the left forearm and knee. But Snafu was in much worse shape.

"I just picked him up and I just felt him trembling and trembling," Silva says. "I thought there was a stick in his mouth but it was his [dislocated] fang."

As first reported in the Mammoth Times, Silva rushed the cat to his vet, Dr. Gaylon TeSlaa, who met him at the clinic on the holiday weekend and treated the cat for bites, lost fur and possible infection.

TeSlaa says he can't recall a cat ever surviving such an attack, "mostly because they get dragged away very quickly."

"The few I've ever seen have been mortally wounded," the vet said.

Silva treated his own wounds himself and says rabies is not a significant concern since the disease has not been seen around Mammoth in a long time and the coyote showed no symptoms.

"A very healthy specimen, coat was gorgeous," Silva says.

Meanwhile, Silva says his 13-pound cat is recovering well, though patches of fur are still missing. Since the attack, Snafu has been affectionate like never before.

"I know that he knows that I saved his life."

Even as time passes, Silva himself can't quite get over what happened, remembering how the coyote had his mouth wrapped around his hand at one point.

"I look out my window and wonder how I covered that distance," he says now.

See, told you it was one heck of a tackle. Now back to our regular programming....

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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