By Sue Misao
Kathy Goldberg opened her front door late Thursday night (Jan. 22) and saw a cougar standing a few feet away at the bottom of her front porch steps. She slammed the door, but not before her little dog had run out the door.
She opened the door again but it was too late–the cougar and the dog, a four-year-old miniature Schnauzer, were gone. A minute later she heard the dog yelping and there was nothing she could do.
Early the next morning she called all her neighbors to warn them of the cougar, and called Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife game warden Cal Treser, who came out to Goldberg’s Libby Creek home with hound handlers Chuck Smith and his son Bryan.
Following the tracks and the dog’s trail of blood, the hounds tracked down an 80-pound female cougar less than half a mile away. The cougar was shot. Goldberg has mixed feelings about it, but she was definitely concerned about her neighbors and especially their children. “I’m sad about the cat and I’m sad about the dog,” she said. ”But once that cat found food at our house, I felt the whole neighborhood was in danger.”
It is not known if the population of cougars in the area is increasing, says Treser, but it is known that the population of people is increasing, which means cougar encounters are more likely to occur.
“This brings to mind management decisions about living in the interface,” said Goldberg’s husband, Michael Notaro, who wasn’t at home when the incident occurred.
Chuck Smith is participating in a one-year-old state-run cougar study, taking DNA samples and attaching radio collars to the animals. Cougar hunting without dogs is legal from Aug. 1 to March 31, but usually only a couple of the cats are taken without the use of dogs, said Treser. Hunting with hounds “was the only management tool we had,” said Smith, who speculated that the cougar population is increasing as a result.
Treser didn’t know if this particular cougar was the same one that other Libby Creek residents have been seeing a couple of miles farther up the road. In winter, cougars tend to stay close together, following the deer. In summer, a male cougar may roam up to 50 miles.
“We have cougar around all year,” said Treser. “People don’t know it until winter and they start seeing tracks.”
There have been a few other cougar sightings in barns and near horses and cattle this winter, said Treser. Usually they are just chased a few miles away and don’t come back. If a cougar is threatening public safety or attacking pets or livestock, a depredation permit is issued and the cougar is killed.
Goldberg’s cougar, which had been hanging out in her woodshed for a while, was the first she’d seen in 25 years of living in the Methow. ”It had no fear,” she said.
Anyone seeing a cougar or cougar tracks near a home, barn, town, ski trail, or anywhere else that could cause danger should call the Washington State Patrol at (509) 422-3800, or 911, or the state’s dangerous wildlife hotline in Olympia at 1-800-477-6224.