Jun 9, 2007
By Emily Alpert
Gilroy - Sheriff's deputies shot and killed a mountain lion Friday morning as it prowled near homes in unincorporated Gilroy.
"We really didn't want to shoot it, but we had to," said Santa Clara County Sheriff's Lt. Dale Unger, one of four deputies who responded to a neighbor's call of a lion strutting on a porch on Lassie Court, east of Gilroy, just after 8am Friday.
The cat appeared to be stalking some nearby goats, Unger said. Two dogs, a German Shepherd and a Labrador mix, chased the lion into a tree, where deputies Gabe Sandoval and Shawn Harrington found it. Sandoval called the State Department of Fish and Game, which advised the deputies that a depredation permit had been issued for a mountain lion that killed six goats nearby, off the 9800 block of New Avenue.
Friday morning, four more goats were found dead a quarter-mile from Lassie Court, on New Avenue.
The permits are one of two loopholes to state laws protecting mountain lions, explained Fish and Game warden Kyle Kroll, who covers South County.
Ranchers and homeowners can get such permits if a lion preys on pets or livestock, but they're rare: Only one was issued in Santa Clara County in 2006, according to DFG. Since 2000, only five lions have been killed under depredation permits in the county.
The second loophole in the law is public safety, said Kroll. Though the lion didn't immediately menace neighbors, the deputies saw joggers and bicyclists nearby, and feared they could be in danger. Deputies shooed neighbors into their homes; some had gathered to watch the lion, they said.
Sandoval believed the lion was likely the same one that killed the goats off New Avenue, and as the two deputies approached, it didn't shy away. Hoping the lion would leave quietly, the two deputies restrained the dogs, allowing the cat to descend from the tree. Lions usually avoid humans, according to DFG, but the 70-pound cat dropped down from the branches and lay down in the yard, unconcerned by the deputies.
Acting on the advice game wardens gave him over the phone, Sandoval decided to shoot. Deputies aren't equipped with tranquilizer darts, and the wardens said the depredation permit and the cat's aggressive behavior meant it should be killed. The wardens were in Monterey Friday morning and weren't immediately available to respond to the call.
Sandoval fired two rounds from a 32-caliber shotgun, injuring the cat, which jumped over a fence into the yard of 9514 Sugar Babe Drive. Harrington drove from Lassi Court to the home perched on the top of the hill. From the base of the hill, Harrington and Deputy Gerhard Wallace saw the cat running toward the house. As the two circled the house, watching for the lion, Wallace climbed the steps to the porch and froze. Behind a hedge, a mere five feet away, the lion was crouched.
Wallace shot again, and the lion rolled downhill. Sandoval joined him and fired again. The lion still wasn't dead. Finally, Wallace pulled out his handgun and shot the cat in the head, "to put it out of its misery," he said.
The sighting was the third mountain lion call Sheriff's deputies have responded to since May, said Unger. As more people move into unincorporated areas, wardens have seen an increase in sightings and attacks, Kroll said.
"The problem with mountain lions is they're very territorial," he explained. "Relocating them doesn't work … They either kill another lion, get killed by another lion, are pushed out into an inhabited area or push out another lion.
"It's unfortunate that people moved into the area," added Kroll. "Once that happens, there's bound to be human-animal conflict."
More than half of California is mountain lion habitat, according to DFG, but the cats are usually harmless: Fewer than 3 percent of sightings end in attacks. If confronted by a lion, wardens recommend that people puff up, make a lot of noise and avoid running, which prompts cats to chase them.
Emily Alpert covers public safety issues for The Dispatch. She can be reached at 847-7158, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.