VANCOUVER — From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2010 12:00AM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Jan. 06, 2010 2:39AM EST
Pinned face down in the snow by a cougar, seven-year-old David Metzler Jr. was already bleeding from wounds to his scalp and back when his mother came running from the church, armed with nothing but a scrub rag.
Mary Metzler, 30, who does volunteer work at the Mennonite church in the tiny community of Danskin, 250 kilometres west of Prince George, didn't hesitate when faced with the chilling scene.
"I saw this animal on top of my son with his mouth at his head... I knew if I went back and took time to call for help it would be too late," said Ms. Metzler.
She charged the mountain lion and smacked it in the head with her cleaning rag, prompting the 30-kilogram animal to drop its prey and flee.
"I just took it and hit him in the face," she said of what has to be the most unlikely weapon ever used against a mountain lion.
It was the second of two cougar incidents in different parts of B.C. in recent days. On Saturday, an 11-year-old boy, Austin Forman, said he was saved from an attack when the family's golden retriever grappled with a cougar outside his home in Boston Bar, in southern B.C. RCMP Constable Chad Gravelle shot and killed the cougar as it continued to fight with the dog in the Formans' yard.
In the Danskin encounter, Ms. Metzler went to the empty church on the morning of New Year's Eve to tidy up.
She left her youngest child, two-year-old Joseph, in a play area, while David Jr. and his sister, Doris, 5, went outside to slide their toboggan on a small hill next to the building.
Ms. Metzler had gone to a stockroom for cleaning supplies and had just picked up a rag the size of face towel when she heard piercing screams so full of terror that she knew something dreadful had happened.
"I've heard children scream before ... but nothing like this," she said. "I knew instantly. It was a petrified scream."
Ms. Metzler ran across the play room, glancing out the window where she could see David Jr. being mauled.
"I didn't recognize it as a cougar at first," she said. "I just knew it was an animal on top of my son."
The cougar had taken the boy to the ground less than three metres outside the church door. Ms. Metzler crossed that space in an instant and, just as she got within striking distance, the cougar raised its head.
"It looked at me, eye to eye," she said.
Then she wound up with the cleaning rag and whacked the startled cougar so hard that it fled. She scooped up her bleeding son and ran back to the safety of the church.
"I got him in the building. Then my next thought is, where is Doris? I had lost sight of her. I got Davey ... but where's Doris?"
Running back outside - and unaware that there was a second cougar lurking nearby - she found the little girl racing toward her around the corner of the building.
"Her face was white. Her eyes were big, but she was safe."
Piecing the attack together later, Ms. Metzler said the two children had been sliding on the hill when Doris fell, and her brother ran to help her up. Then they saw the cougar, just metres away.
"At first they froze. Then Davey made a run for the door and that's when the cougar got him," she said.
With the cougar holding her brother on the ground between her and the door, Doris turned and darted around the corner of the church. She kept running and, by the time she'd circled the building, her mother had vanquished the cougar.
Ms. Metzler stanched her son's head wounds with the cleaning rag, bundled the crying children into her van, and drove 30 kilometres north to the hospital in Burns Lake, where she met her husband, David Metzler.
"It's a mother's instinct: 'Don't mess with my kids,' " Mr. Metzler said of his wife's action. "I also believe the Lord's hand was there."
David Jr. had his wounds stitched up and is so well recovered he went back to school yesterday morning.
Sergeant Gary Van Spengen, a senior conservation officer, said two conservation officers from Burns Lake, Mark West and Jeff Palm, heard about the cougar attack from hospital staff. They went immediately to the scene and were soon following the tracks of two cougars near the church.
They lost the animals at dark, but the next morning, helped by cougar hunters with dogs, they found the pair, two females weighing about 36 kilograms and 30 kilograms, and shot them both.
"Cougar attacks are rare, but they do happen from time to time," Sgt. Van Spengen said.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org