Robert Barron

Robert Barron column: Know what to do when confronted by a cougar

They have four paws decked out in sharp claws to add to the damage that they can do with their teeth

The cougar that was spotted in the Cairnsmore neighbourhood, not far from the Duncan’s downtown core, during the evening of May 6 really makes one realize just how close we are to nature on Vancouver Island.

The cougar didn’t come into contact with, much less threaten or attack, any people or domestic animals during its short jaunt through the city.

But the incident is a reminder to all of us that there are big cats nearby on our beautiful Island, and we should be aware and take precautions to prevent harm to ourselves, and the cougars, at all times when in or near the woods.

Cougars are silent stalkers and, although I (thankfully) haven’t seen any of them in my frequent hikes through the woods in the many years I’ve lived on the Island, I’m sure many of them had seen me from their hidden positions as I ignorantly walked through their territories.

I can only imagine what kind of damage a 175-pound cat can do to you if it got it in its head that you might make a tasty meal.

I used to work in a veterinary clinic in Toronto a couple of lifetimes ago and I learned to be more fearful of a nine-pound house cat than any big German shepherd or Rottweiler.

After all, a dog’s only real weapon of consequence is the teeth and jaws, so, when I had to face a nasty dog that didn’t really want to be at the clinic, I developed a strategy whereby I would use one arm to district the animal and then quietly slip a muzzle over their mouths when they weren’t paying attention.

It didn’t always work, mind you, but it was a useful technique most of the time once you’ve practiced it enough.

However, cats were a totally different matter.

I learned that if a cat is in a surly mood, you had better proceed with a good measure of caution.

A frightened house cat is capable of gymnastics and seemingly impossible body movements that would blow Nadia Comaneci out of the water, and they have four paws decked out in sharp claws to add to the damage that they can do with their teeth.

Once, after expertly coaxing an angry and massive bullmastiff out of its holding pen using my muzzle technique, I was asked to help one of the technicians remove a less than cooperative house cat from its cage.

My strategy was to throw a bath towel over the cat’s body to blind and confuse it before I attempted to gently seize the animal from behind and get control of its feet and mouth.

But the cat, who was not having any of this, twisted around in mid air when I lifted her and sunk all of the claws on its four legs into my chest before I had any chance to respond.

The cat then started swiping its claws at my body, shredding my work shirt and tearing long lines of gashes across my chest.

We managed to get the cat back under control with no harm done to it, but I had to go to the hospital to be assessed to see if I needed any stitches on my ravaged body which, fortunately, I didn’t.

So when I think of having to try and fight off a cougar that is 10 times the size of a house cat and has no history of domestication, my legs go to jelly.

It may go against your best judgment which urges you to run like the wind if you encounter a cougar, but conservation officers stress that your best bet is to keep calm and never run, as running away is a trigger for a cougar to attack you.

You should make yourself look as large as possible and back away slowly, keeping the cougar in view, and allowing a clear exit for the cat.

And if you have children and small pets with you, you should pick them up immediately.

Cougars are a beautiful as well as an essential part of our ecosystem here on the Island and we shouldn’t want to see them harmed.

That’s why it’s always good, for both the cougar and you, to know exactly what to do when confronted by one.

Let’s do our best to coexist with these most beautiful felines, for the good of all.

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