Horsefly Lake, British Columbia, Canada
February 10, 1998 was not a good day. I was recovering from the flu and on antibiotics for incipient pneumonia, but Katie (my Kerry Blue Terrier from John and Heather Van Boeyen's Killashandra kennel) and Corrigan (my Airedale from Virginia Higdon's Ironcroft kennel) need their daily walk. So off we went down the Millar Road, which runs besides Horsefly Lake at the foot of the Caribou Mountains, in the heart of Caribou Region, in the interior of British Columbia.
We normally make a three mile circuit, but, this day we did not complete it. On our way back, Corrigan, who was 30 yards behind sniffing scents, ran into the thick cedar bush and began barking furiously. I thought that Corrigan was barking up Tim Neuert's white boxer, which lives in Tim's log cabin on the lake shore about that part of the road. So back I ran to stop any possible fight, with Katie hard on my heels.
Just as we reached the point where Corrigan had entered the bush, we heard the barking change to the most piteous yelping howl that I have ever heard. I knew at once that only a cougar could make a dog yowl like that. So into the thick cedar break I plunged. The young cedars here are about 4 to 8 inches in diameter and thick as the hairs on a dog's back, with many dead-falls tangling the forest floor. Wet heavy snow covered many of the dead-falls causing me to constantly stumble and fall as I sank knee deep in the snow at every step, dodging and pushing my way through the cedar branches.
After a mere 30 yards I was completely winded from the extreme effort and my constant yelling of Corrigan's name. But up ahead in a small clearing about 20 yards away, I could see the brown mass of the cougar and my dog.
Corrigan's heart rending yowling continued endlessly, and the sound was more than I could bear. It drove me wild. I fell and was so tangled in the bush that I could not regain my feet - so the last 10 yards I thrashed through the bush on my hands and knees. When I got within 12 feet of the cougar I had great trouble seeing him clearly and realized that I had lost my glasses somewhere in the bush. I am legally blind without my glasses, but at about 8 feet, I could see the cougar sitting there on his haunches with Corrigan's head completely in his mouth.
This was a huge cougar. Corrigan was also in a sitting position and the cougar's shoulders, arched neck and head were about 18 inches higher than Corrigan (who is a very big Airedale). The cougar was sideways to me, and as soon as I was close enough to be sure what was cougar and what was Corrigan, I lashed out with all my might, huge saber style slashes with my one and a quarter inch diameter, 5 foot long hiking stick. I felt it whack the cougar's back and heard the well seasoned stick crack.
The cougar dropped Corrigan and glared at me for a split second. But I was screaming and whacking with everything I had, and I guess that he decided that he wanted no part of this white bearded, bald headed apparition - because he spun on his haunches and disappeared into a tunnel the heavy lower cedar branches.
I saw a black streak fly after him, and that was the first time I was conscious of Katie's part in this affair. Then, before I could grab him, Corrigan was after the cougar too.
By this time I was completely exhausted. The bush the animals had entered was the heaviest yet and I could not push my way through it. I called frantically in vain for my dogs to come back. Then I heard Katie scream in pain, and the screaming went on and on. Desperately I flung myself into the bush yelling as loud as I could. I was yelling so loud and frantically that I could not hear any fight sounds, but Katie's screaming blessedly stopped. I could see nothing in the bush and I had used up my last ounce of strength. But I now assumed that Corrigan drove the cougar off Katie, because as I cried out for my dogs, weeping in frustration that my strength had failed the task, Katie came staggering through the bush towards me. What may have been seconds later, but which seemed like many minutes, Corrigan also answered my call and came back close enough for me to grab him.
Both dogs were badly torn and punctured. The tan fur on Corrigan's head, throat, chest, and forelegs was one giant crimson splotch. I worked off my belt, threaded it through his collar, and sighed with relief. He would not be going back to the attack now. I called Katie who was sitting 5 yards away. She tried to force her way towards me but kept bumping into branches, rocks, and dead-falls. I then realized that she was either blind or in complete shock. I forced my way over to her, dragging Corrigan on my belt. When I got close enough I could see the deep puncture wounds in her skull and face. Both her eyes were filled with blood, and blood was dripping steadily from her face and the front of her chest. She looked up at me gamely, but I knew that I would have to carry her out to the road.
Stick and belt in one hand and Katie's 35 lbs. in my other arm braced against my hip, I staggered through the bush towards the road. Katie kept slipping and the belt-leash kept snagging on branches, dead-falls, etc... It was slow hard work, but at last we reached the road.
There I discovered that Katie could not walk even on a level surface. She would stagger a few steps and then sit down and refuse to move. I had no lead to put her on. And, at this point, Corrigan suddenly scooted around to the opposite side of me from where we had left the cougar and pressed tight against my legs. I knew by this completely uncharacteristic behavior that the cougar was close and watching us, although without my glasses there was no way that I could spot him.
So, stick, belt and Corrigan in one hand and Katie under my other arm, I started down the road. Home was a good mile and a half away. The Millar Road is a dead end, and, in winter, can be without traffic for many hours at a time.
After the first hundred yards or so, I knew that I was in for a real ordeal. Corrigan was against my legs so hard that walking was difficult, and Katie was more than my spent strength could handle at that point. The long heavy stick was awkward, but would be very necessary if the cougar came onto the road after us. I knew that he was following just inside the bush out of sight.
Then, blessed heaven, a car! Tim Neuert was bringing his son home from an emergency trip to the doctor. Quickly he turned his car around and we loaded the dogs into the trunk because of the blood. I climbed in with them to keep then calm and to hold the trunk lid open. At my place we quickly transferred Katie and Corrigan to the back of my Explorer, and with my spare pair of glasses, we were off for the 85 km. drive to our veterinarian.
When I got to the vet's both dogs were quickly and thoroughly treated. Then Dr. Worbets said "you have a piece of stick sticking out of your eye." Sure enough, a half inch below my eye, a piece of dead branch was firmly embedded and sticking out of my skin. I had never noticed it up to that time, but a half inch higher and I would have lost my left eye. So I do have some luck, even if my dogs do not.
Today, seven days later, Corrigan is almost completely recovered. He is again playing his usual silly teasing games and demanding his daily walk. Katie is slowly coming back. She is returning to the loving little happy being that she always was. Unfortunately, she is still blind. But today she walked a quarter mile on her lead, sniffing out scents, and, when she got a good one, showing sparks of her old jauntyness and gayety. WE can hope that time will heal. Terriers are very tough dogs.
In retrospect I am gaining a clearer picture of what actually happened that morning. I think that the cougar was very close to the edge of the road and watching us from just inside the bush. Whether or not he was stalking the dogs, or just watching from curiosity, I have no idea. Corrigan barked him up manfully, but it is not in Corrigan's character to launch an unprovoked attack. He is just too good natured. He would be harassing the cougar by dancing around him barking. The cougar, instead of treeing (as most normally would) attacked Corrigan, grabbed him by the head, and commenced dragging him into the woods. As I came closer, crashing through the bush, the cougar stopped to observe my progress towards him. I now believe, although I was too busy trying to save Corrigan to notice what Katie was doing, that she stood back and was merely an observer until I attacked the cougar with my stick. When it turned and ran into the bush, she either decided to follow her master's example and that attack was "the name of the game", or perhaps it was just any dog's normal reaction to chase anything that runs. I am certain, however, that Corrigan, despite his severe injuries, did attack the cougar to make him drop Katie. Although I did not see this happen, there is no other way that Katie could have escaped given her size, her injuries, and the size and nature of this cougar.
There was no difficulty getting Fish and Wildlife to sanction the destruction of this cougar. The fact that he had stalked me down the road after the initial attack was conclusive.
The cougar hunters were called in with their trained dogs, and dead beaver baits were put out. The wily cougar ignored the baits, perhaps because he was well fed on two moose kills. By the time these kills were located, he was finished with them, and the trail was cold.
On February 25th we had a fresh couple of inches of snow. This aided the tracking, and by February 28th the cougar had been located and his presence confirmed. The serious hunting began that morning, and by 2:30 PM he was brought to bay and shot. He was a healthy, mature male measuring 9-0 feet "from tip to tail" and weighing 140 lbs.
Katie regained vision in one eye only shortly after the cougar was killed, and this is all she requires to resume a normal life. Dr. Worbets had told us that blood in the eye sockets is usually re-absorbed into the system over time, and that when this happens, vision often returns, if there are no other injuries. This is exactly what happened. By seven weeks after the encounter, she has regained all of her old habits and characteristics, and except for that one eye, and for only having about one quarter of her previous stamina, she is completely recovered.