A local woman and her dog went face to face with a cougar on the prowl Jan. 5 and lived to tell.
Bradie Dearle was walking her dog on a town path behind Collinge Road when a cougar suddenly appeared beside them. She instantly yelled and went towards it, and the cougar hesitated.
“I didn’t want to scream and jump back,” she explained.
Her dog, a 10-month-old Belgian Malinois, who was on her other side, jumped in front and the cougars’ focus shifted to him. Dearle saw her opportunity to kick the cougar, which she later realized cut her foot.
“Then the dog slipped his collar, I thought he was going to take off and then the cougar switched his attention to me again and my dog jumped and lunged at him and it went back and forth like that a few times,” she said.
She swung the leash with the loose collar at the cougar while her dog stayed by her side, lunging.
“It probably would’ve gotten me if I didn’t have my dog with me. My dog is pretty young and lean, he’s tall but it wouldn’t take much if he got a hold of my dog,” she went on.
After roughly three minutes of back and forth between them, she believes the cougar was likely confused at their attempts to defend themselves and crouched down staring at them as Dearle slowly backed away.
She increased the distance and with roughly 20 feet between them, the cougar moved into the trees. She continued backing up, locking her eyes on the cougar as it stared right back at her from the trees.
Never turning her back on the animal, she headed up the steep slope and through someone’s yard onto Collinge Road.
Once home, she called the RCMP who redirected her to Fish and Wildlife.
Chris Watson, a Fish and Wildlife officer in the Hinton district, said the trail was closed off and the cougar was tracked the following day.
It was found to have been bedded down under a spruce tree not far from the trail and only 30 yards or so from backyards on Collinge Road.
The male cougar, which Watson described as around two and a half years old and healthy, was later treed by hounds and euthanized.
Dearle said that she usually carries bear spray and was thankful that she did not have her kids with her like she usually does.
“If they attack there’s not even enough time to do anything. If I did [have bear spray], I wouldn’t have had time to use it until I backed away. He came out of nowhere, it was too fast to react,” she said
There was another report of a cougar attack on a dog at a Hinton residence that same day, so to best ensure public safety Watson said the search was widened and it was determined there was another, separate cougar of concern in the area. That cougar was also tracked, treed and put down.
The cougars were both young, healthy males and Watson said they were believed to be siblings as they were traveling together.
“Both animals showed tendencies that were concerning moving in and through backyards, peering into residences and we believe were responsible for the two most recent dog attacks which occurred (Jan. 5),” Watson said.
“Based on the weight and overall condition of these two cats we believe they were recently dispersing from the care of their mother. Younger animals, expecially predators, often struggle and experience tough times while out on their own the first time.”
Watson said something else they found during the investigation was there was evidence that deer were being drawn into residential areas.
“These cats are following deer, which are being attracted to bird feed or salt block in people’s yards,” said Watson.
“Feeding the deer will bring in the predators as well. This is now a concern so please refrain from feeding deer.”
Resident Jan Vassbotn spoke during the Minute With Council segment at the start of the Jan. 7 regular meeting and urged the Town to adopt a bylaw prohibiting residents from putting out food or salt blocks for animas like deer. He told council that similar rules are in place in communities like Canmore.
Watson said Fish and Wildlife will continue to monitor the area. Signage is going to remain in place for a few days and will be taken down if there are no additional sightings or occurrences. If a cougar or other wild animal becomes a concern or nuisance please call the the Report a Poacher Line at 1-800-642-3200.
– with files from Tyler Waugh, and photograph by Jim Bushner