CANMORE – A cougar has been shot and killed by conservation officers after it killed one dog and tried attacking another.
Alberta Parks wildlife managers said they responded to three calls about cougar sightings in the area of Ha Ling Peak and the East End of Rundle on Wednesday (Oct. 2), two of which involved individuals with their dogs.
"We got a call in the afternoon that a woman and her dog, dog was on-leash, had been attacked by a cougar," said Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) senior parks ecologist, John Paczkowski.
"She was able to access her bear spray and spray the cat at a range of less than one metre. The cat disengaged from approaching the dog. While officers were investigating that attack, and putting up an area closure, they received a report from another woman on the East End of Rundle who had her dog off leash, a smaller dog, that was snatched, picked up by a cougar."
Paczkowski said a third call came in after hikers saw a cougar a little farther up the trail where the smaller dog had been taken.
"Around 5 p.m., some other hikers reported seeing a cougar five minutes further up the trail, the officers went a little further and came across a cougar feeding on the second dog. The dog was dead," he said.
"The cougar was shot and killed."
Paczkowski said the young cat appeared thin, but had no external signs of injury or disease.
Local Canmore resident, Bree Campbell and her dog, Ray, were the first to encounter the cat and place the call to Kananaskis emergency line. She said they were on the way to the parking lot after hiking Ha-Ling Peak Trail, when a cougar snuck up behind them.
“I had [Ray] on the leash and we were coming out of the trail … just on the bridge over the waterway,” said Campbell.
“I had my ear buds in, not a great idea, but I did. My dog was looking behind me, behind us, and I turn around and there’s a cougar on [Ray’s] tail basically, touching him.”
Campbell said she started yelling at the cougar, at first in hopes that it would be enough to scare it away, however it persisted.
“I was probably three quarters of the way over the bridge, it backed us off, so I started yelling at it and it started swiping at my dog… I drop his leash and started trying to get the bear spray out – at this point both of them are basically nose-to-nose,’ said Campbell.
“[It] didn’t hit Ray, I don’t know how. When I got the bear spray off, I yelled at Ray to go and I pointed [the bear spray]. I probably got him from one or two feet away, got him right in the nose, for sure right in the face. That disoriented him, he started backing up.”
Campbell said the cougar then jumped off the bridge area and ran off. She immediately called Kananaskis emergency line and informed it of her encounter.
On Thursday (Oct. 3) morning, Alberta Parks issued a closure advisory indicating Ha Ling Peak and the east end of Rundle were closed.
For Campbell, it was a close call, and one she’s glad she had her bear spray for.
“When I got back to my vehicle, I was definitely shook, like I was crying and shaken up for sure, because that could have ended up totally different. I could have touched and pet this thing if I wanted to, it was right there,” she said.
“He didn’t get hit, it all happened very fast. I think we’re just extremely lucky. I had my bear spray attached to my backpack, so I was able to get it pretty quick."
Paczkowski said the use of bear spray on cougars has not been widely reported, or recorded. As well, cougar attacks on dogs, while rare, do happen in the Bow Valley.
"Although it's rare, it's not uncommon and I know that's kind of an oxymoron," he said. "So cougar attacks on dogs, specifically in the Bow Valley, seem to happen every other year or so. We've had numerous dogs attacked and in some cases killed by cougars over the years. Biologically, I would say this is probably one of the toughest times of the year for cougars in that the ungulates that they would typically feed on are in prime shape."
While Campbell and Ray escaped unscathed, another dog did not. Paczkowski said it's important to have your dog on a leash when hiking in Canmore and Kananaskis Country.
"In one of the cases the person was wearing ear buds, she didn’t become aware of attack until the dog was pulling," he said.
"Certainly don’t wear ear buds, be alert of your surroundings. Carry bear spray, keep your dogs on leash, travel in groups if possible, be aware of your surroundings. If you do encounter a cougar you can call Kananaskis emergency services."
The Kananaskis emergency line is 403-591-7767. Visit the Alberta Parks website at www.albertaparks.ca for more on safety advisories.