Friday, July 13, 2007

Young cougar killed in B.C. after attacking pet

Matthew Gauk, Victoria Times Colonist
Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A cougar was shot after attacking a Shetland sheepdog in the backyard of her owner's Langford home Tuesday night and dragging her up a tree "like a rag doll."

Owner Joanne Howe was on the back deck at around 8 p.m. with her mother and three young neighbourhood girls, who were playing with a litter of Lucy's puppies. Howe, who breeds shelties, was just letting the girls leave through a gate in the backyard when Lucy and some other dogs scooted by. The cougar came crashing down through the bushes and picked up the six-year-old former Canadian show-dog champion "almost instantly."

"I was terrified," said Howe, who was about 4.5 metres from the cougar when it grabbed the dog. "There was a lot of screaming and yelling. We made sure everybody was safe and secure."

The cougar kept nine-kilogram Lucy in its mouth for only a few seconds before dropping her. The dog, which fell about 3.5 metres, suffered three puncture wounds, two in her neck and a deeper wound in the top of her head. Howe suspects the cougar didn't have time to bite down hard, which saved Lucy's life.

The cougar didn't fare nearly so well. Howe called the West Shore RCMP and three officers showed up to secure the area, making sure the neighbours stayed indoors. The RCMP initially waited for a conservation officer, but shot the animal when it appeared the cougar was climbing down.

The cougar was dead by the time conservation officer Stuart Bates arrived on scene. He has a tranquilizer dart gun, but said he would have destroyed the animal anyway.

"Coming right into a yard with people in it to attack a dog, that's pretty aggressive behaviour," said Bates. "Obviously this cougar wasn't used to seeing people, or was very habituated to [people]."

There had been a number of cougar sightings in the area since the weekend, and Bates said there were reports of the same cougar getting into people's garbage.

Bates chalks up the cougar's odd behaviour to inexperience and an empty stomach. The roughly two-year-old male had likely been kicked out by his mother and was fending for itself, he said. It probably hadn't made a good deer kill lately, was forced to go after smaller animals like rabbits and raccoons and saw the dog as "just another item in the food chain."

Bates pointed out the attack isn't surprising when you consider the location - the Palsson Place house is next to Goldstream Provincial Park and backs on the E&N Railway. Past that is the wilderness of the Sooke Hills.

The Victoria branch of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service has received about 50 cougar calls since the beginning of April, which Bates said is average for this time of year. Some calls have been serious - one cougar killed lambs in Metchosin - but many are for brief glimpses of an animal resembling a cougar. The Victoria office deals with cougar sightings in Greater Victoria and the area extending to Port Renfrew and Mill Bay.

Howe is concerned about future appearances by the wild cats, but realizes there's not a lot she can do about it. She rarely leaves her dogs unattended in the yard.

"Even with a fence, you'd have to have Fort Knox to keep a cougar out." id=49c747a5-b1ac-41db-a0c1-497888617315&k=40861

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