Cougar or not: Officials uncertain what led to local horse's wounds
Rande Lindner examines the ground near where a local woman believes a cougar attacked her horse.
One thing is for sure. Somehow al-Jasiim got scratched up pretty well.
For the Egyptian-Arabian’s owner Jennifer, who asked her last name be withheld because of family issues, what scratched her eight-year-old horse was a cougar.
Jennifer said her daughter was the one to raise the alarm when she came home from school and went outside to feed al-Jasiim an apple. Instead of finding the animal inside the fence, it was standing outside about 400-500 feet from the house, afraid and upon examination, heavily slashed.
Jennifer thinks sometime during the night of Sept. 12, her horse managed to startle a cougar while grazing within her rental property’s fence line just west of the Cheney Rodeo grounds. Whether the cougar was inside or outside the fence she doesn’t know, but she suspects the horse might have been downwind of the cat when the two accidentally tangled.
“It doesn’t look like he was going to be lunch,” she said. “It looks like ‘you get away from me.’”
After getting al-Jasiim back inside and up to the house, Jennifer made several calls, one to the Fish and Wildlife Department’s Spokane office and one to her landlord, Rande Lindner, who came over and took pictures of the horse. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Madonna Luers said the department sent two officers, lead investigator Dan Rahn and wildlife conflict specialist Candace Bennett to Jennifer’s house.
Rahn said Jennifer was definitely upset when they arrived in late afternoon, believing a cougar had attacked her horse. But as the pair investigated further, they began to have their doubts.
Rahn said the nature of the wounds, which are low down on the brisket – the horse’s front – and around the lower legs were inconsistent with cat marks. A cougar would have left claw marks higher up around the throat and back of neck, marks that would have been deeper as if to bring the animal down, more parallel and of an up and down nature rather than side to side.
“They will penetrate and cut down into the muscle tissue and the ones on the horse were all over the place,” he said.
Rahn said there were a couple marks on the horses back, and a puncture wound lower down on the leg, but nothing he felt that was of a slashing, flesh-ripping nature an animal such as a cougar would do. Thinking the horse’s wounds came from something more structural like barbed wire or loose, wooden boards with protruding nails he and Bennett began looking around.
Their search, however, turned up few other clues. The closest barbed wire fence is a neighbor’s house outside Jennifer’s fence, and while there were some loose boards lying around they found no blood splatters, hair or flesh samples.
A paw print was found out near where al-Jasiim was located, Jennifer said, and Rahn said it was a large print, about 3 inches by 3.5 inches, that could have been a cat’s, or possibly a large canine. The print was not a full one however, missing the back part, and the dirt it was found in was very dry, making definition difficult.
After retreating to their vehicle, Jennifer said Rahn and Bennett returned and told her they felt al-Jasiim’s injuries were of a structural nature and not from a predator. They did ask her to let her neighbors know it might possibly have been a predator and to take precautions, something Jennifer said left her “unnerved.”
“If it was structural, why would I need to warn anyone?” she said in an email. “And what about the paw print they found? They just ignored that?”
Jennifer said she has left messages with the department in an attempt to get a copy of the print picture, but has received no response. Lindner did share the pictures he took with co-workers, one of whom said she heard of a recent cougar sighting near Gardner Road.
Jennifer said they emailed the pictures to her veterinarian, Dr. Heather O’Bannan at Medical Lake Veterinary Clinic. Jennifer claimed the vet told her after viewing the pictures she felt the marks were likely left by a cat.
Upon being contacted by the Cheney Free Press, O’Bannan declined to comment, with an office assistant saying she didn’t want to get involved because she had only viewed the photos and not examined the horse directly.
Rahn said he sympathizes with Jennifer regarding the horse and what she believes happened. Besides the investigation of her property, he said the department has received no reports of missing livestock or other signs that might point to a cougar in the Cheney area.
Al-Jasiim’s owner Jennifer believes her horse startled a cougar sometime the evening of Sept. 12, resulting in wounds on the 8-year-old Egyptian-Arabian’s front.
“If it’s a cat, it’s a cat,” Rahn said. “We’re not trying to hide anything. Anything is possible in nature, but we just have to go with the evidence.”
Jennifer believes there is a cougar around, and wants to make sure her neighbors are aware of what happened. The proximity of the alleged attack to housing developments and a school worries her, as does the fact it took place the same weekend as the Cheney Pee Wee Rodeo.
Both she and Lindner said there are lots of animals in the area, some which could be predator food and others that could be predators at times themselves.
“Lots of coyotes,” Lindner said.
“But coyotes haven’t been around the last two weeks,” Jennifer added. “We hear them pretty constantly, but we haven’t heard them in two weeks.”
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.