Friday, January 29, 2010

Mountain lion attacks dogs in Bellevue

Fish and Game continues to track large cat

Express Staff Writer

Photo by Maurice Hornocker In this photo by Wood River Valley biologist Maurice Hornocker, a mountain lion roams through an Idaho forest.

Bellevue residents are cautioned to keep an eye on their pets after a mountain lion injured three dogs in residential neighborhoods near the Big Wood River over the course of this week.

Idaho Fish and Game Senior Conservation Officer Rob Morris said the first incident took place Monday on Riverside Drive, just east of the river, when a golden retriever was let out of a house at 6:30 a.m. and was immediately confronted by a cougar.

Morris said the cat swatted the retriever, giving it a laceration on its forehead and neck, neither of which required sutures.

Later that day, a neighbor called Blaine County Dispatch to report that her two labs encountered the lion immediately after being let of the house. The cat then hid under a car in the garage while the dogs retreated into the house.

"There were no injuries to those dogs and we're not sure if the lion is seeking out dogs or the encounters were just incidental," said Morris, who declined to give the names of the pet owners. "We do assume it was the same cat."

On Tuesday, the mountain lion was spotted by a resident on Lower Broadford Road, on the opposite side of the Big Wood River, and appeared to be headed toward Townsend Gulch.

"We took that as a good sign that the cat was moving out of the residential area," Morris said.

However, the next day it injured two dogs in separate incidents on Broadford Road.

The first left several bite marks on a dog's neck and claw marks on its ribs. Though the wounds required sutures, Morris said, the dog appeared fine when he saw it Thursday.

On Wednesday evening, the cat then attacked a German shepherd mix, already blind and missing a leg, belonging to Krista Gehrke. Gehrke said the dog was at her parents' house at 230 Broadford Road when her father, Bill, received a call from a neighbor that a mountain lion had been spotted heading his way.

"He opened the door and caught the lion gnawing on [my dog's] head," Gehrke said of the encounter. "He threw rocks and pieces of wood, but the mountain lion didn't budge until he hit it in the chest with a big rock that needed both hands to lift. The vet said one more compression and the lion would have severed my dog's jugular."

Morris and fellow Conservation Officer Lee Garwood spent Thursday morning trying to track the lion with a hound, but said they were unable to catch up with the cat.

Garwood said multiple sets of mountain lion tracks are in the area, likely those of a larger male and a female with a kitten. He said that from the reports, the male is currently believed to be the offending cat.

"This is a little bit different from past attacks over the years because it's a series that have happened over the course of four days," Morris said. "It's given us a bit of concern."

As a precaution, Morris said, pet owners in the area should be careful when letting their pets out, especially during the early morning or at dusk when there isn't much light.

"People should turn on lights and make some noise to let the cat know that there are people around," he said.

Morris also asked that anyone who spots a mountain lion should immediately call either him or Garwood at (208) 539-4418 or (208) 539-4403, respectively. Other points of contact are the Fish and Game regional office in Jerome, (208) 324-4350, or the Blaine County Sheriff's Office, 788-5555.

If the lion is caught, Morris said, it's uncertain whether it would be relocated or killed.

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