A local man is reminding the community that Sooke is part of cougar country, after one of the large, predatory cats attacked and killed his dog in East Sooke Regional Park on Feb. 5.
“Be aware and take precautions, and keep dogs on leash as much as possible,” Pierre Rousseau said, adding parents should also be vigilant of their children when hiking through the park.
“It’s not that I want any action against cougars, it’s just I want people to be aware that they (cougars])are there and that they come close to people,” he said.
The warning comes as a cautionary tale, as the East Sooke man had to learn the lesson the hard way.
Rousseau, 62, was on one of his regular walks with his beloved 10-year-old Brittany spaniel, Misha.
According to Rousseau, the walk was one of hundreds the dog had been on in East Sooke Regional Park. The dog was accustomed to her surroundings, as a result she was let off leash a short five to 10 meters from Rousseau on Babbington Trail between Anderson Dove and Park Heights trail. The day turned for the worst when Misha was out of sight. The behaviour was unordinary as the dog never strayed far from her owners. Rousseau then heard the bell on her collar rattle into the distance.
“I was wondering why is she going away, and started yelling, ‘Misha, come back,’” he said. When the dog did not return, Rousseau walked off the trail in search of her.
“I went out of the trail and I could hear the bell going a bit further, and I was calling and I said, ‘What’s going on?’”
Rousseau had no inkling Misha was attacked by a cougar, until he heard her yelp. Realizing a cougar may be close, Rousseau went home to fetch pepper spray in order to safely continue his search.
He searched for about five hours, walking a far distance from the trail in hopes of finding Misha. But as dusk approached, he had to return home.
It was on the second search the next morning when the family found the dog’s remains about 10 to 15 feet from the trail. The body was in a “cache” of debris, indicating it was indeed a cougar kill.
“I thought because I was hearing the bell, I thought she was walking, but then later I learned she was being dragged away,” Rousseau said.
He believes they were stalked by the cougar, which later targeted the small dog. Rousseau had no indication he was being stalked, hearing and seeing nothing.
“We never thought that this would happen so close to us,” he said. “I had never anticipated they (cougars) would stalk us in any event.”
The loss has been hard for Rousseau and his wife, as the pair spent the first five years of their retirement daily with Misha.
“It becomes a part of the family,” he said. “You always think it’s not going to happen to you.”
Rousseau said this is the second cougar attack in recent months on a dog in the area.
According to conservation officer Rick Dekelver, there have been 80 cougar calls in the Sooke area this year. In total, there have been 2,000 reported cougar encounters on the Island.
Dekelver said in the event of a cougar encounter, you should stand your ground, making loud noises and making yourself appear larger.
“Turning and running… increases the predator-prey response, kind of showing the animal you’re submissive,” he said, adding fleeing could provoke the cougar to chase.
The elusive cats are most active during dawn and dusk, but are active at all hours of the day.
Dekelver encouraged residents to report cougar and other dangerous wildlife sightings at 1-877- 952-7277.