So last week, they slipped out of the parched foothills of Lake Elsinore and into a spacious, vacant home in well-groomed Tuscany Hills.
Residents of the development got their first look Aug. 27 when the feline squatters -- at least two adults and three kittens -- lolled atop a wall outside the Spanish-style house.
Someone called 911, reporting mountain lions. Four police cruisers showed up and officers ordered everyone inside. But soon they were out snapping photos along with the neighbors.
Bobcats are not known to attack humans, said Monique Middleton of Animal Friends of the Valley, which provides animal-control services.
"But are they pussycats? No. Can they do a lot of damage? Yes," she said. "They usually look for a food and water source, and there is an old koi pond in the backyard and that's where they are headed."
She said she expected the animals to move on in a few weeks, when the kittens are old enough to travel.
Tuscany Hills has been hit hard by foreclosures, and the house on Vista Palermo has been empty at least six months, neighbors said.
Said Scott Brown, who with his wife, Karen, moved here from Long Beach to be close to nature: "They are great neighbors, and as long as they don't want to baby-sit my kids, it's not a problem."