A fugitive is on the loose in the woods of southern Anne Arundel County. The suspect has eluded capture for days, but police say there is no cause for alarm.
The runaway is known as Hoppy. It is a wallaby.
The Australian marsupial has been spotted for several months in the woods of Severn, south of Baltimore. Last week, county police began using a dog trap baited with kangaroo food to capture the animal and remove it from the area.
But Jean Lauer, 51, doesn't want police to take Hoppy away. The Severn resident wants to adopt the wallaby.
"This baby has won our hearts," she said. "I'm like its mother. My life is around Hoppy right now."
Lauer has been feeding the wallaby, which resembles a small kangaroo, almost every night since she moved in August to a quiet Severn cul-de-sac next to a 1,000-acre forest. The animal hops out of the woods and eats the corn, apples, wheat bread and specially ordered kangaroo food that Lauer has set out for it.
She said she is worried that police will send Hoppy elsewhere. "Why are they jerking Hoppy away from us?" she asked, her eyes moist with tears. "It's like my baby leaving home."
Police have received several calls from families that want to adopt the wallaby. Lauer said police told her she most likely will not be able to adopt the animal because zoning regulations might forbid her from keeping a wallaby in her home.
But there is another complication to the final residence of the Severn wallaby. About 14 miles away, the owner of a petting zoo hopes that maybe, just maybe, Hoppy is actually Kanga. Debbie Collison, owner of the National Endangered Wild Animal Research and Conservation Center petting farm in Davidsonville, said the wallaby in Severn might be one that disappeared from there about five years ago.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about Kanga," she said. "I always wonder if she's safe and how she is doing."
Collison said a wallaby could survive for years in the forests of Severn.
"They are very hearty animals," she said. "They don't mind the ice and snow. And the vegetation here is enough for them to live on."
Kanga was one of the most popular animals at the petting zoo. Collison said she believes the wallaby, which is worth about $2,000, was stolen. The farm has had financial difficulties in recent years, Collison said, and hasn't been able to buy a wallaby to replace Kanga.
Lauer said that if she is able to adopt Hoppy, she would board it at Collison's petting zoo.
"That way we still [would] get the wallaby in our lives," she said.
Anne Arundel police said they have not made a final determination about a permanent home for the wallaby.
"We will deal with that when the animal is actually found," said Capt. Athena Marpel, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel police.
For now, the main priority is capturing the animal, a task that has proved more difficult than expected. Animal control officers set up a 6-by-2-foot steel trap in Lauer's back yard Friday night to capture the nocturnal wallaby.
Hoppy showed up that night but managed to eat the kangaroo-food bait without tripping the trap. The wallaby hopped off into the woods when approached by animal control officers, Lauer said. It showed up again on Saturday night but did not enter the trap.
"I think Hoppy's one smart cookie, to be honest with you," Lauer said. "She's leery now. She's even stopped trusting me."
Lauer said she developed a close relationship with Hoppy, whom she named. The animal used to come within two feet of her and respond when she called it, Lauer said. "That's my baby," she said, looking at a home video of Hoppy munching leaves.
It remains unclear from where the wallaby came -- if it is not Kanga. Collison said it might have been a household pet, but police said they have received no calls reporting a missing wallaby.
Lauer said she will fight as hard as she can to keep Hoppy. She said she would dote on the animal night and day and spend as much money as necessary to fulfill its every wallaby need.
"I'm capable of giving it a life of leisure," she said. "I just want to make sure that I do right by this wallaby."