Cougar or Dog?

A cougar is seen lounging in a back yard in rural Wasco County in 2016, where it “napped” without fear despite the homeowners presence. Inset is a comparison of dog and cougar tracks, courtesy ODFW.

A cougar sighting was reported in The Dalles last week, with possible additional sightings between May 11-23, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials are asking area residents to report any new sightings.

“While ODFW cannot confirm the sightings, their frequency and the history of similar situations in The Dalles lead biologists to think the sightings may be credible,” said Michelle Dennehy, statewide communications coordinator for ODFW, in a press release.

Staff have placed trail cameras around the city to get more information on the cougar’s movements, Dennehy said.

Anyone who sees a cougar within city limits is encouraged to report it immediately by calling ODFW at 541-296-4628, Oregon State Police non-emergency dispatch at 541-296-9646, or the City of The Dalles Police non-emergency dispatch at 541-296-2233.  Sightings in Wasco County can be reported to the sheriff at 541-296-5454.

“We’ve heard of multiple situations recently where cougar sightings in town were not immediately reported or not reported at all—which means we can’t accurately assess the situation or respond quickly,” Dennehy explained. “We’re asking residents that see a cougar to please let us know immediately.”

The potential of multiple cougar sightings in town during daylight hours indicate a possible public safety threat, Dennehy said.

Captain Jamie Carrico with The Dalles Police Department said two recent sightings were reported at 17th and Garrison and 14th and View Court.

Cougar sightings in The Dalles and surrounding area are not unusual.

On March 20, 2018, wildlife officials killed and removed a cougar discovered in a room under construction at the Oregon Motor Hotel downtown The Dalles. The cougar, a male, was estimated to be two years old and weighted over 100 pounds. Prior to that, the most recent cougar to be euthanized in town was about nine years before, when one was caught in Columbia View Heights, Jeremy Thompson, a biologist for ODFW’s based in The Dalles, said at the time.

In 2015, six sheep and a steer were killed southwest of town in the Chenowith area, and a cougar was eventually killed by a nearby property owner. In 2016, a cougar was euthanized in the Brown’s Creek area southwest of town by troops with the Oregon State Police. That cougar had become fully habituated to people, sitting openly by the garbage can despite coming face-to-face with the homeowner.

A cougar will usually claim three to five square miles as its territory, and males may overlap their area with several females, Thompson said. Young cougars often wander, seeking new territory.

Area residents are encouraged to feed pets indoors and keep them inside at night, and to be aware that congregating deer may attract cougars, which prey on them.

Thompson earlier said using lights at night to keep cougars away from livestock is a good move if a cougar is known to be in the area. He said guard dogs are also helpful because they generate enough noise to drive secretive mountain lions away.

Native to Oregon, cougars range throughout the state, the highest densities occur in the Blue Mountains in the northeastern part of the state and in the southwestern Cascade Mountains, according to ODFW’s “Living with Cougars” website page and brochure.

Their primary food source is deer, but they will also consume elk, raccoons, bighorn sheep, and other mammals and birds. Most active at dawn and dusk, cougars are lone hunters. They are generally solitary animals, except for mothers who remain with kittens for about two years.

While actual cougar sightings have increased, coyotes, bobcats and dogs are often mistaken for cougars. A cougar can be identified by its large size, cat-like appearance, consistent tan or tawny body color, and long tail. An adult cougar’s tail is nearly three feet long and a third to a half of its total length.

Cougar tracks can be differentiated from dog tracks by paying attention to details, including the lack of claw marks and the shape of the heel pad.

In 1994, Oregon voters outlawed use of hunting dogs and traps, and cougar populations have since doubled. Oregon is currently home to more than 6,000 cougars, also called mountain lions. Cougars are hunted on a quota basis.

Guidelines

ODFW recommends the following precations:

If you encounter a cougar

Cougars often will retreat if given the opportunity. Leave the animal a way to escape.

Stay calm and stand your ground.

Maintain direct eye contact.

Pick up children, but do so without bending down or turning your back on the cougar.

Back away slowly.

Do not run. Running triggers a chase response in cougars, which could lead to an attack.

Raise your voice and speak firmly.

If the cougar seems aggressive, raise your arms to make yourself look larger and clap your hands.

If in the very unusual event that a cougar attacks you, fight back with rocks, sticks, bear or pepper spray, tools or any items available.

If you live in cougar country

Learn your neighborhood. Be aware of any wildlife corridors or places where deer or elk concentrate.

Walk pets during the day and keep them on a leash.

Keep pets indoors at dawn and dusk. Shelter them for the night.

Feed pets indoors.

Don’t leave food and garbage outside.

Use animal-proof garbage cans if necessary.

Remove heavy brush from near the house and play areas.

Install motion-activated light outdoors along walkways and driveways.

Be more cautious at dawn and dusk when cougars are most active.

Do not feed any wildlife. By attracting other wildlife, you may attract a cougar.

Keep areas around bird feeders clean.

Deer-proof your garden and yard with nets, lights and fencing.

Fence and shelter livestock. Move them to sheds or barns at night.

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