ashland.news
May 26, 2024

Authorities: Ashland cougar was a ‘textbook case’ for lethal removal

A cougar. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife photo
April 19, 2024

Woman used a tomato plant to drive off the attacker; cat did not survive

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

A woman was walking her cat on a leash Thursday morning near Glendale Avenue when a cougar attacked the cat. The woman hit the cougar with a tomato plant, which apparently drove it away, according to the dispatch notes available, Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara told Ashland.news. 

When the cougar was again spotted in the area around 1 p.m., Ashland police officers were called to the scene. Oregon State Police troopers were called in and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff also responded. The cougar was fatally shot around 2:40 p.m. 

Immediately following the morning attack, the cat was taken to Bear Creek Animal Clinic in Ashland where it ultimately succumbed to its injuries, veterinarian Dr. Jacqueline Church said. The cat — a mature but not elderly tabby mix — arrived at the clinic with a crush-like injury to its head that Church said was severe. She and clinic staff worked to stabilize the tabby while its owners weighed whether they should try to take it to the animal emergency room at Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center in Medford. 

Specialized veterinarians from the center remained on the phone with Church advising her of everything she could possibly do for the patient. Ultimately, it was determined the cat would need to be on a ventilator for an unknown period of time if it could be saved. Church would not disclose the cat’s name as the family has asked her for privacy. 

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara leaves the yard where a cougar was shot at about 2:40 p.m. Thursday on Glendale Avenue in Ashland. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“He was a very good boy. He enjoyed going for walks with his family,” she said of the cat. 

Church said while she was sorry to hear the cougar was shot, she supported authorities decision to dispatch the animal based on its behavior. Not only was it prowling during the day, it showed no fear of people. She was particularly alarmed because she was told three people were with the tabby at the time of the attack. Normally, the presence of a single human is a deterrent to cougars. 

“A wild animal shouldn’t act this way around humans. If they do, something’s wrong,” she said. 

The cougar was emaciated with a deformed paw, said Meghan Dugan, a public information officer for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The department’s Wildlife Biologist issued a report describing it as a young male — only 65 pounds — probably leaving its mother and seeking out its own hunting territory as early as last fall. The front left paw was missing half its toes and foot pads. It is unknown if this was a birth defect or a healed injury. 

A limping cougar that killed Amanda May’s cat, Muscles, is captured on a security camera video she posted in February 2024 on NextDoor. The video was taken near the Holly and Guthrie street intersection. May said it also killed at least one raccoon and a possum. She reported the incident to the police and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and posted it on the Ashland wildlife reporting map. A cougar killed by a state officer on April 18 after attacking a cat was reportedly a young male — about 65 pounds — with a front left paw missing half its toes and foot pads.

The legal threshold for dispatching a wild animal lives in Oregon Statute ORS 498.166. The statute has a provision defining a wild animal as a safety risk if it has attacked domestic animals or pets, Dugan said. 

“In this case, the landowner was walking their house cat on a leash in their own backyard when the cougar attacked their cat — that’s a cougar attacking their pet just a few feet in front of them. That is a very serious human safety risk,” Dugan said. 

In the Ashland backyard where authorities closed in on the cougar Thursday, additional carcasses of small animals were located. These previous kills are believed to be possums, O’Meara said. 

As state troopers came closer to the animal it was “unfazed,” even when one trooper came within 5 or so feet of it to take the fatal shot, he said. 

“Yesterday was a textbook case of ‘this animal needs to be lethally removed and it needs to happen right now,’” O’Meara said. 

Cougars determined to be a safety risk are not trapped and released elsewhere by ODFW policy for the good of people and the big cats, Dugan said. A cougar with no fear of people could find a different city to seek easy prey. Cougars are also territorial animals with large ranges. When they are moved elsewhere, it is “often not a good outcome,” for the displaced animal, she said. 

Officers from Ashland police, Oregon State Police and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officers were at the scene of a stand-off with a cougar that attacked a cat in the backyard of residence on Glendale Avenue in Ashland Thursday afternoon. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Members of the public sometimes inquire if these cougars could simply be housed in a zoo. The ODFW opposes this concept on its webpage, “Living with Cougars.

“Zoos or other captive facilities are not good fits for older cougars removed from the wild. ODFW and other wildlife professionals consider it inhumane to place an adult wild cougar used to ranging over 100 miles into an enclosure for the rest of its life,” the page said. 

Cougars — and other forms of wildlife such as bears and deer — are a fact of life in Ashland. 

Oregon has about 6,000 cougars statewide, up from an estimated 200 in the late 1960s, according to ODFW.

“A lot of cougar sightings we don’t pay any attention to. We expect to see cougars in Ashland,” O’Meara said. 

APD offers a map on its site where residents can share encounters with wildlife to keep the public aware of where bears and other animals can be expected. 

For the irregular but perpetual incursion of cougars in the city, APD goes through a “gradual ramp up” of response starting with “OK, there’s a cougar — and?” O’Meara said. 

This table compiled by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shows wild animal complaints in Jackson County and Ashland related to human safety, including things like aggressive actions, loss of wariness towards people, attacking pets or people, breaking into residence, etc.

If the cougar is not determined to be a threat but is potentially a concern — as sometimes happens on rural properties — APD can work with ODFW to bring in a live trap and remove the animal. These removals are driven by landowner complaints, otherwise law enforcement is generally not involved, he said. But once the cougar starts to show no fear of people, law enforcement response changes. 

In his years as Ashland’s police chief, O’Meara could remember two other incidents when APD officers assisted in dispatching cougars. 

The previous cougar shot in Ashland was hiding under someone’s porch and unconcerned about human activity nearby, he said. The one before that was prowling around the Hannon Library at dusk while students were also walking in the area. O’Meara said he gave the officer on scene direction to shoot the animal. But the officer missed and the cougar escaped. 

The next day a man encountered a cougar while walking his dog but, “luckily this man was very familiar with cougars and knew what to do,” O’Meara said. He believes this was the same cat due to its atypical fearless behavior. 

Accounts online also record an incident in February 2009 in Ashland, when a 76-pound cougar resting on a tree limb about 20 feet above the backyard of a local resident was shot and killed by Ashland Police and Oregon State Patrol officers.

Ashland residents have previously found creative ways to respond to cougars. An Ashland woman found a cougar in her home in 2018 and used “Frequency and attunement, telepathy, feline communication eye blinking and bongo drums,” to drive the cat back outside, according to a report in the Oregonian. 

For Ashland police officers and residents, the greatest threat from wild animals comes every May to June. That threat is not from a cougar or a bear, though. 

“The wildlife that is most often aggressive in Ashland is actually deer,” O’Meara said.  

From 2020 to 2024, cougars were reported to ODFW nine times in some form of human safety incident in Ashland, according to data compiled by ODFW biologists. Countywide, cougars were a safety concern 49 times. In the same period, deer were a source of complaint 68 times in Ashland and 51 times county wide. 

Cougars are “an Oregon conservation success story,” according to the ODFW page. Once hunted and depleted down to a state-wide population of 200 in the 1960s, there are now an estimated 6,000 cougars in the state. Southwest Oregon is one of their most densely populated habitats, Dugan said. 

In the rare event of a cougar attack, bongo drums are not advised. The ODFW advises walking away slowly, remaining facing the animal, raising the arms and making noise, according to the department’s webpage. 

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Related story: State trooper shoots, kills cougar in Ashland backyard (April 18, 2024)

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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