In the West, people sometimes find bears scrounging for food in the kitchen or cougars pacing the deck. In the East, a chubby house cat can spook the neighbors. Residents of Bensalem, Penn., became alarmed when they saw what they thought was a 50-pound wildcat or worse, a "mysterious monster," reports The Denver Post. Seven fearful homeowners called police, who then mounted a search for the furry predator, even sending digital photos of its paw prints to the Philadelphia Zoo for analysis. Then came the embarrassing denouement: Someone was opening a lot of cans of cat food. "It was basically a big, overgrown pussycat, about 20 pounds or so," said the town's deputy director of public safety.


A snowmobiling couple in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, won their case against a farmer who came upon them in his field and "just lost it," according to the judge. The way farmer Grant Scheideman came unglued was dramatic. He flattened the trespassing snowmobile with his 15-ton tractor and plow blade. "The farmer claimed it was driver's error prompted by a balky transmission," reports the Edmonton Journal. But the judge believed witnesses who heard Scheideman say, "Maybe I'll put it in the wrong gear," minutes before his tractor stomped the Ski-Doo. The snowmobilers said from now on, they'll stick to the mountains. Scheideman, fined $1,000, asked, "What can landowners do? This just proves that we have no rights."


Vigilantism was condemned recently by the Arizona Republic. The paper was reacting to an anonymous brochure that invited snowbirds to bring RVs, halogen spotlights and infrared scopes to take part in "Neighborhood Ranch Watch" on the Arizona border. While it is true that the number of undocumented Mexicans apprehended in Douglas, Ariz., alone has escalated to 22,000 a month, the paper said, any suggestion that this is a good time to "hunt immigrants' is wrong and not funny. "These aren't tears of laughter we're wearing on this issue," the paper editorialized.


Santa Fe New Mexican columnist Denise Kusel says she has a great idea for the Psychic Network, which hired 15 New York City welfare recipients for $10 an hour, plus bonuses, and also offered on-the-job training in tarot card reading. Since New York pulled the plug on placing its unemployed in the psychic industry, Kusel urges the network to come to Santa Fe instead. Not because residents have any particular aptitude for prophecy - it's the bigger paycheck. In Santa Fe, she says, some employers still pay their workers only $6.25 an hour, yet they have never figured out "why they can't hire dedicated people who might want to spend the rest of their life flipping burgers."


Wanna-be doctors at the University of Colorado Medical School take a final exam that's a hoot for professors but a strain for students. Actors play sick people while medical students have 20 minutes to make a diagnosis, and instructors get to watch it all unfold on television monitors. Bellicose "Nathan," for instance, comes in complaining that he's losing weight even though he eats up a storm. A second-year student then has to give him the news that he needs a rectal exam to rule out colon cancer, reports The Denver Post. "They use a kind of microscope with a camera," the student explains." What's a scope?" Nathan asks. "It's a wire that can take pictures," says the female student. "They're going to put some kind of wire in my butt?" The toughest part of the test for medical students may be keeping a straight face.


To the animal protection group, PETA, which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, cowboys can be cruel, especially in rodeos where they ride horses and bulls that have been cinched to make them buck. So Virginia-based PETA sent a letter to Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer recently, asking him to delete the image of a bucking bronco and rider from the state's license plates. The group said the logo should be "replaced with a symbol exhibiting a 21st century understanding of animals," reports The Denver Post. The copyrighted symbol, adopted more than 80 years ago, isn't riding off anywhere soon, said Wyoming officials.


Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or betsym@hcn.org.