By Ann McCreary
Although it’s been several days since she came face-to-face with the cougar that was attacking her dog, Julie Langeberg of Mazama said she is “still kind of weirded out about it.”
Langeberg’s cougar encounter, which took place Jan. 2, is the latest in a series of interactions between cougars, pets, livestock and people in the Methow Valley during the past few weeks.
Langeberg’s dog was injured in the cougar attack last week, which occurred just outside her house on heavily forested property about five miles up Lost River Road. Ember, a 60-pound border collie-golden retriever mix, was outside about 4:30 p.m. when he began to “bark really ferociously,” Langeberg said.
“I instantly ran outside and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s in a fight with a dog. No, it’s a wolf.’ I kept going forward and yelling and screaming and waving my arms.”
As she got closer, Langeberg realized it was a cougar that had her dog’s head in its mouth.
“I got, I think, eight feet away and all of a sudden I obviously scared the cougar. It lifted off my dog and kept its body sideways to me. He crouched down and kept its head low, and we looked eye to eye. Then he turned its tail toward me and leaped away.”
Langeberg said the cougar was “beautiful — shiny and silky — almost like petting it would be something else.”
She coaxed Ember back into the house. Initially she didn’t see any wounds under the dog’s fur, but then noticed blood on his head and realized he had been bitten on his skull and jaw.
She took Ember that evening to veterinarian Gina Pastore in Winthrop, who treated puncture wounds in the dog’s skull and near his jawbone, and stitched up a gash on his shoulder.
A neighbor came to Langeberg’s home after the attack to look for tracks, and spotted the cougar in the dark, lying next to a nearby shed, Langeberg said. The neighbor tried to scare the cat away, but it didn’t budge until the neighbor fired a shot from a pistol into the ground.
Langeberg said the incident has left her shaken.
“We know we live in the wild. I’ve been in the valley 18 years … I’ve seen cougars before,” she said. “I’m a little unnerved about it. I pack a gun now. I’ve never packed a gun in my whole life, but I do now. I’m pretty happy I have my grandmother’s revolver.”
Cal Treser, wildlife officer for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, visited Langeberg’s home after the attack last week and found many cougar tracks around the property. “That cougar had been there a while,” he said.
This week Skip and Betsy Smith lost a goat to a cougar in the early morning on Tuesday (Jan. 7), the second time in two weeks that a cougar has killed a goat on their ranch outside Winthrop on Highway 20. Another goat was killed in the early morning on Dec. 29. Skip Smith said he was awakened by his dog barking and caught the cougar in the act of trying to drag its kill away on both occasions.
Trackers with dogs who work with state wildlife officials picked up the cat’s scent a few hours after the attack, and followed the animal toward the Rendezvous area, Smith said Tuesday.
Other incidents include an attack that killed a dog on Christmas night at a home on Twisp-Carlton Road. Wildlife officials and trackers found the cougar, a year-old male, and shot it.
Earlier in December, a dog was attacked and injured at a home on Twisp River Road when it went outside with its owner. The cougar also killed chickens at the home. Treser and trackers also found that cougar, a 2-year-old male, and killed it.
Another encounter occurred at the Big Valley Ranch about three weeks ago, Treser said. A local woman was walking two dogs on a leash on Dripping Springs Road when a cougar walked onto the road in front of her and stopped.
According to Treser, the woman said she and the cougar stared at each other for about 10 minutes, before the cougar moved off into the trees.
There have been sightings of another cougar near the bridge at the south end of Winthrop. The cougar has killed a barn cat and a deer, and has been seen on Studhorse Mountain and around the Sullivan Cemetery.
“That’s a terrible place to try to make a living, because you’re always disturbed by people,” Treser said.
When cougars begin preying on domestic pets and livestock, they often have to be killed because they will keep returning even if they are relocated, Treser said.
For more information about living in cougar country, see Coming to terms with cougars.
For more on cougars in the Methow this winter, see Another cougar attack adds to high number of incidents, Cougars on the prowl, not the increase, officials say, and Human, pet encounters with cougars increase each winter.