How Mocha the Mountain Lion made Socastee her home for almost 20 years

For 19 years, Mocha the Mountain Lion made Socastee her home.

She wasn't a wild lion, but lived first at owner Chuck Bunnell's house and then in a compound at his business in the Socastee area outside Myrtle Beach.

She lived there until her death on March 8. She was 19 years old.

"To be honest with you, having a pet of a regular dog or cat is not the same as having an exotic," said Bunnell. "Something that normally lives only in nature, something that can easily kill you and then they bond with you and they treat you like they love you."

Bunnell, now a web programmer at Coastal Carolina University, first got Mocha when she was six weeks old.

"A young guy had bought her from an out-of-state zoo and brought her into Myrtle Beach," he said. "He had her for two weeks and decided that he didn’t know what to do with her any more. He was feeding her cat food out of a can, which will kill them. She was starting to have the shakes and her ribs were showing."

Around that time, Bunnell had befriended Mahamayavi Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a world-renowned animal trainer and conservationist who runs the Myrtle Beach Safari and who offered advice on how to care for her.

"The original intent was to nurse her back into health with some help and find a home for her," Bunnell said. "Nobody really wanted her. All we got was a lot of flak for having her. We ended up keeping her."

For the first two and a half years of Mocha's life, she lived in Bunnell's house. She was between 65 and 85 pounds during that time.

"She went to work with me every day, she went with me when I got my hair cut, she went with me when I went to the gym and lifted weights, she went with me everywhere," Bunnell said.

At two-and-a-half years old, she got big enough to start tearing up the furniture.

That's when Bunnell built an outdoor compound in his backyard for Mocha to live in while he and his wife weren't home.

And when Mocha was 4 years old, Bunnell moved her to a 1,200 square-foot outdoor compound attached to his office at his business. There, Mocha could come to his window to receive some quality petting time.

Bunnell said Mocha's personality was like that of a house cat complete with litter box training, albeit a larger and more deadly house cat.

"I’d say ‘give me some loving’ and she’d bow her head and rub it on me," he said. "I’d say ‘give me some kisses,’ she’d lick me on the chin. I trained her to walk on a leash so I could walk her around places. She was fine around people as long as she was outside of her compound. She’d walk around Gold’s Gym, hang out in there while I’m working out."

At the compound, Bunnell would visit her in the morning before work and in the evening after work. She ate 2.5 pounds of chicken five days a week. Medical care was primarily done by Bunnell following the advice of Antle and veterinarians.

"To have a big cat like that bond with you, give you that kind of attention, not try to kill you, that’s an honor," Bunnell said. "That’s something I’ll never forget."

In the past several weeks, as Mocha was getting old, Bunnell knew the end was coming. Mocha passed away in his and his wife's arms. He plans to have her cremated.

"She lived 19 years, six months and three weeks," he said. "So she lived a good long life. "

Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian