Today I took Lily for a walk along the newly groomed Rail Trail which connects mere steps from my back door. It was the perfect weather for our walk - sunny and breezy -- and she was ecstatic about the idea from the moment I snapped her leash to her collar.
We walked with no particular agenda or destination other than enjoying the bird sounds (me) and smells (her). Quail scampered out of our way, and we stopped periodically so I could snap photos of berries and foliage and dandelions gone to fluff. We passed several groups of people on bikes, one dune buggy, another solitary dog walker (to whom I apologetically explained my dog's anti-social tendencies). I was enjoying the day, the sun, the wind, the exercise, but I was also planning different potential articles I might write.
It was a good way to spend a Sunday.
We'd been walking awhile when I realized we were alone on the trail. All those we'd seen had been travelling the opposite direction, and it appeared we had now left other people behind. The wind picked up, and the trees on each side of the path were doing that glistening sparkly thing trees do when their leaves are blowing in the wind. This time when we stopped, I recorded video of the wind in the trees.
We'd only gone a few steps further when from the thicket at the right of our path, a snarl sounded. Lily and I both peered into the undergrowth, seeing nothing. The sound, I was pretty certain, was a cougar (or variant from the cat family), and we were alone and completely without defensive protection. When the growl came again, Lily's tail and ears drooped down, and my heart rate jack rabbited up. The first chance we got, I detoured off the trail. We took the road back home.
I stopped as soon as we were in the open and pulled up cougar sounds on YouTube, and the growls were a match. Yikes! i wasn't totally comfortable again until we were safely back in our own yard. Back home, I looked up what to do if hiking in cougar country.
1. Travel in groups
2. Make yourself look bigger
3. Don't Run
4. If it comes to it, fight back.
Oh yeah, and keep small children / animals close. If you actually see a cougar, pick the child up.
Apparently, cougars instinctively will follow if you run. This is unfortunate, considering that was definitely my first instinct. I did intend to pick Lily up first, though, so at least I got it halfway right.
Once Lily and I were safely away from trees and all other cougar hiding spots, I phoned my mother.
"I'm glad you're safe, but I have to go. We are at the food court in the mall."
Hmm. Less than satisfying reaction.
My daughter, who slept at a friend's, laughed at me over text. My son said, "hmm," then cooed over the dog. Her mortality matters. Then he said, "Even Sabertooth (our house cat) could take her."
Rude. True, but rude.
I did have a nice talk with Kellee on Facebook who told me when he goes into cougar country he wears a shirt with eyes on the back. "Cougars," he typed, "Won't attack if they are being watched."
Finally! SOMEONE who took me seriously!
And yes, we lived to tell the tale. But personally, I'll be happy to never hear that sound, that close, ever again!
For anyone interested, here's the sound we heard.