It could have played out differently for any of the three animals meeting in a fatal encounter outside the Dry Creek home of Todd Weekly and Debbie Enos.
One unwelcome visitor and two Labrador retrievers faced off in the early morning hours of June 16. There was plenty of barking, growling, snarling and screaming — all of which led to a sound to silence all others: a gunshot.
The result was one unscathed dog, one with serious injuries and a big cat that hit the ground and didn’t move again. But any one or all of the three could have died by the time Weekly lowered his shotgun that Father’s Day morning.
Jaz the black Lab was lucky. Despite a skull fracture and numerous bite and claw wounds, she’ll recover and be ready to protect her home from any future intruders. Her pal, Duncan, was luckier still. He survived the episode apparently untouched.
Weekly and Enos meanwhile have joined the increasing number of Douglas County householders with a story to tell: What Happened When the Cougar Came to Our Place.
The tale has many variations, but it’s becoming more common, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sometimes it unfolds at rural homes, other times in commercial lots, parks or other public places in town.
Thankfully, the human-cougar encounters have been limited to sightings. But pets and livestock have been killed or gone missing.
One ODFW biologist recently told The News-Review that deer and elk populations are declining. This may compel large carnivores to look for easier prey that attracts fewer competitors — dogs, cats and other domestic animals.
Predators that are more desperate are also less likely to shy away from people who happen to be in the vicinity of those food sources, whether deer, sheep or pets.
Visitors to Yellowstone National Park and other nature preserves are handed pamphlets with tips on how to behave in the company of wildlife. Douglas County residents aren’t automatically issued similar guidelines, although ODFW and other agencies have the information handy.
Arguing over the rights of homeowners versus wildlife is senseless. More productive is knowing what to do to avoid coming into contact with large predators, as well as what action to take if such situations become unavoidable.
These are preventive measures as important as drawing up a disaster response plan for the family and changing smoke alarm batteries when clocks are set forward or back.
ODFW’s website has a page found at dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with that provides advice on sharing a neighborhood with every kind of critter from bats to wolves. Given the agency’s declaration that Oregon is Cougar Country, it’s comforting to read that cougars and mountain lions often will retreat upon meeting a human, and so it’s important to leave them an escape route should you meet one.
Other tips — don’t turn your back on a cougar, don’t run from one, maintain direct eye contact and raise your voice — may not be intuitive, making this and other wildlife tips recommended reading.
Don’t have Internet access? The Roseburg ODFW office has information free for the taking near the front door at 4192 N. Umpqua Highway. Call 541-440-3353 for more information.