‘Big cat’s tail was long and it was 2ft high’

John Searle, from Petersfield, and his dog Herbie. He believes he saw a big cat on the prowl on Petersfield Heath while he was walking his dog
John Searle, from Petersfield, and his dog Herbie. He believes he saw a big cat on the prowl on Petersfield Heath while he was walking his dog
Dogs use facial expressions to communicate

Dogs use facial expressions to communicate

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A DOG WALKER has spoken of his spine-tingling encounter with what he believes was a big cat – sparking further speculation that a feline beast may be roaming the countryside.

John Searle, a retired engineer, believes he saw a large, black cat – about the size of a German Shepherd dog – in the undergrowth of Petersfield Heath.

Mr Searle was walking his dog Herbie shortly before 8am on Sunday on the heath, which had no other walkers on it at the time.

Mr Searle dismissed the sighting as impossible, but called The News yesterday after seeing a picture of a paw print taken by a rambler in fields off Sussex Road, Petersfield.

As reported, John Bailey, from Portsmouth, believes he saw a grey and black feline disappear through a hedge.

Mr Searle, 59, of Cranford Road, Petersfield, said he went to investigate when he saw rustling in bushes.

He said: ‘I saw what I think is the back end of a black cat – its hind legs and a tail.

‘It was about 2ft high from what I saw. Its tail was quite long.

‘Herbie went to have a look in the bushes with his nose to the ground. He smelled or saw something and it must have frightened him because he came running back to me. I thought I was seeing things – I had to rub my eyes.’

Mr Searle said he did not hear growling, but said it did not move like a dog and was no tabby.

‘If it had been a normal cat, Herbie would have been after it,’ he said.

Big cat encounters are not unheard of in south-east Hampshire. The ‘Beast of Hayling’ – a swamp cat that roamed the island for years – went on display at Havant museum after being hit by a car in 1988.

Expert Jonathan McGowan, a member of Big Cats In Britain Research Group, believes the paw print in the picture is from a big cat.

Danny Bamping, of the British Big Cat Society, added: ‘I don’t doubt he saw a big cat. Reports across the south have been increasing.’

The first sightings came after laws in 1976 banned keeping uncaged big cats as pets.