June 20, 2014 - 3:40 PM
VERNON - It wasn’t a 911 call anyone would ever expect to make.
“There’s a cougar in my house chewing on a squeaky toy,” says a Westside Road resident who asked to be referred to only by her first name, Verena. “The police initially thought I might be hallucinating.”
Verena, 53, just returned home from a hike with her three Scottish Deer hounds, Luna, Hermione and Eos around 9 a.m. June 20. She came down the potholed, dirt road and past a sign warning of a recent cougar sighting in Westshore Estates. Having lived and hiked in the area for 14 years, she knew to carry a bear bell and bear spray. She never thought the wildlife she protected herself from would be in her own home.
“Luna went in the house through the dog door and started barking like a maniac,” she says. “I opened the door and saw a cougar on the living room carpet, just a few feet from me, biting down on a dog toy.”
Having worked at an animal shelter, her instincts kicked in right away. She retreated to the safety of her van and called off her dogs.
The cougar growled as it retreated further inside the house, the squeaky dog toy (a sheep) clutched in her mouth.
“I didn’t opt to take a second look. I left my property in the van and tried to inform my neighbours,” she says.
She told a confused 911 dispatcher what happened, and waited for the Conservation Service and RCMP.
When conservation officers arrived, they barricaded the dog door so the cougar couldn’t escape and entered the two-storey house. They couldn’t find the cougar.
“They went back a second time and she was hiding in a dark corner between the washer and freezer. She still had the squeaky toy,” Verena says.
Conservation officers prepared a tranquilizer dart and attempted to sedate the cougar.
“I love the way they approached her. They were quiet and respectful, they didn’t chase or aggravate her,” Verena says.
Eventually, the officers managed to hook a catch pole around the cougar’s neck and sedated it. Conservation officers say the cougar couldn't be relocated now that it had entered a home and posed danger to residents. They killed it.
The cougar was a year-old female in poor condition, not the same cougar that was spotted in Westshore Estates. She’d likely been separated from her mother, as cougars typically stay with their mothers until they reach a year-and-a-half. The cougar likely entered the house through the dog door, possibly chasing one of Verena's cats.
“In the end my heart went out for the cougar,” Verena says. “She has lost her mother, been fighting for her life, in her desperation she finds her way into a place she’s not supposed to be and she lost her life because of that.”
She’s seen cougar tracks in the back country and spotted one once, but never up close.
“I have high respect for them, but they’re also the one animal I want to meet least of all.”
She doesn’t plan on blocking up her dog door, but will leave the radio on when she’s gone to ward off wildlife. She’s heartbroken at the death of such a beautiful animal, but understands conservation’s choice to euthanize it.
“She was miserable, starving slowly. In her desperation she risked her life. I think she’s in a better place now than she was in.”
One of Verena's dogs, Eos, stands by the front gate. She says the year-old emaciated cougar was smaller than her large Scottish Deer Hounds.
(CHARLOTTE HELSTON /InfoTel Multimedia)
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