Friday, January 29, 2010

Wood River Valley: Mountain Lion Encounter!

Story and photo by Sara Sheehy, donor relations manager in the Conservancy's Hailey office.

I told my friend I had “quite the story to tell.” He retorted by saying “Quite the story to tell – that was the understatement of the decade.” I so rarely tell stories here, but this one is a good yarn.

And it’s all true.

I woke up this morning in a scream. I couldn’t figure out why, until I focused enough to hear the howling and snarling outside the window. My first thought was that a fox or coyote was after one of the barn cats, and that our neighbor’s dog was fighting it off. I sensed a faint scuffle happening near the barn but it was too dark to see.

After dragging Mike out of bed, we grabbed a flashlight and headed outside. My main concern was that there might be an injured cat in the yard.

Just outside the barn we came across a sizable patch of blood.

I heard a faint noise, and something rushed out of the darkened barn towards us. I screamed, and shone my light on what turned out to be my neighbor's dog. She didn’t come near us, but I started to worry that it was her blood we had seen.

I called the neighbors in my concern, and shortly all the lights went on in their house. I proceeded to get ready for work. As I was walking through the living room, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large shadow lurking on the side of their house.

My first thoughts were “No way. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t.” The shadow turned its big head in the reflection of light against snow and I couldn’t deny it. Cougar.

After calling my neighbors again to warn them to stay inside, a car pulled into the driveway. A woman I didn’t recognize got out, unaware that she was 20 feet from the shadowed cougar. The cougar crouched.

I panicked, flung open the window, and yelled at her to return to her car. She moved her headlights to flash at the house. The mountain lion stood up, turned, and stalked away.

The woman left, with our neighbor’s dog (and the neighbors) a short time after. Once it was fully daylight, I returned outside and hunted down the large paw tracks. The one pictured above was behind the barn.

The circumference of the paw print was bigger than my palm, but smaller than my fully extended hand. A big cat.

The happy ending to this story is that the dog is recovering from her run-in with the cougar, and we are hopeful that the one missing barn cat will return (barn cats have a tendency to disappear occasionally, and they are great hiders).

I am grateful that when I went out to investigate the “fox” this morning, that it was only the dog that came out of the barn, and not the cougar, too.

I live in a very narrow valley where large animals are feeling the constant pressure of fragmentation and development where they once traveled.

It is a constant struggle in these situations to do what is best for humans and animals, while remembering that we as humans have invaded their home. I don’t yet know what the resolution in this particular situation is, but it is never easy.

For now, I will be keeping my two dogs close at hand and being careful not to venture outside during dawn and dusk. I hope the cat got a healthy scare and will move into a more wild locale. I hope that for the cougar, and for us.


tai haku said...

woah - that sounds intense!

Michelle (pronghorn) said...

Great story!

Sheryl said...

I think that the dog was very fortunate!