COUGAR OFF THE HOOK

Art Friedrick found this suspicious paw print in his front yard. Although he can't say for sure what animal made it, he said he isn't taking any chances.

By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski

Staff writer

HERMISTON — The adolescent cougar that mauled three pigs last week wasn't a cougar after all.

According to Greg Rimbach, a wildlife biologist for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, says his initial assessment was incorrect. Two state trappers visited the site where the pigs resided and said the tracks indicate a dog or dogs did the damage.

"He (the trapper) brought out a trapper from Morrow County and they both said it was a dog," Rimbach said. "The pigs would have been dead, too (had it been a cougar)."

Rimbach says the marks on the pigs could have been caused by a dog or dogs. There are a number of big dogs in the neighborhood, but he couldn't say if the neighborhood dogs were the culprits.

Regardless of the new information, the pigs' part owner, Jerry Ruth, isn't taking any chances.

"I have been sleeping in my truck for the past few nights," Ruth said.

The ?cougar' sightings haven't gone unnoticed by at least one resident who lives along the irrigation ditch off of West 11th.

At Chateaubri Mobile Home Park, Art Friedrick heard noises late Thursday evening. He didn't think much about it until he found a possible cougar track in his front yard.

"The skirting was moved back under my house," Friedrick said. "I put it back and then found the tracks."

Friedrick's neighbor had just rototilled his front yard in preparation for putting in grass seed, so the ground was soft enough to show prints made by the animal.

The irrigation ditch that runs behind Ruth's property (where the pigs were mauled last Sunday) also runs behind Friedrick's mobile home. Just beyond the irrigation ditch are homes.

"I don't have anything to defend myself with anymore," said Friedrick. "Nothing but a butcher knife."

Rimbach said there is a cougar around — just not quite in town.

"People have seen one at the Umatilla Refuge and at Potlatch," Rimbach said. "Several years ago, we had a confirmed track at Rocky Heights (Elementary School)."

If a cougar is sighted in urban areas, Rimbach says, it is usually euthanised.

"Our policy is to euthanise or take to a zoo," Rimbach said. "The Portland Zoo already has a cougar."

There is a third option, Rimbach said, but one that is rarely, if ever, used.

"We can re-introduce the cat into the wild," Rimbach said, "however, it will probably be killed by a tom or female protecting their territory."

Most cougars found in urban areas are shot by police, concerned citizens or by ODFW, Rimbach says.

If someone encounters a cougar, there are several things to do to avoid the cat.

Rimbach recommends making lots of noise, making yourself bigger by raising or spreading out your arms, and throwing something at the cat to chase it away.

"Open your coat (if wearing one) and spread it out," Rimbach said. "You want to appear bigger than you are. The worst thing you can do is run. That is what its prey does."

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