Cambrian: Opinion

Mountain lions can pose a danger to pets in Santa Lucia range

Local photographer Beth Sargent of photographed this mountain lion recently in San Luis Obispo County.
Local photographer Beth Sargent of photographed this mountain lion recently in San Luis Obispo County. Special to The Cambrian

Although my friends were aware of the dangers in these Santa Lucia Mountains, they asked me to “dogsit” their dachshund and Chihuahua. For the first week, along with my two dogs, we strolled around the woods several times a day. Three of the dogs explored ground squirrel holes.

The dachshund searched for lizards. One sharp whistle and all four dogs were at my heels.

Sadly, on the eighth day that wasn’t the case. The dachshund had disappeared. Did she run away or get lost? Did a rattle-snake bite her?

Another possibility haunted me.

Three hours later, with the nobility of a queen surveying her kingdom, a large mountain lion (aka cougar or puma) sashayed past the cabin.

Although human scent lingered in its path, and pots and pans were banged together in an attempt to scare away the cat, it was unfazed.

Over the decades, of all my thrilling yet chilling cougar encounters, not one cat seemed to fear me. And the ones that I didn’t see, well, they probably weren’t afraid either, or hungry. Yes, research shows that mountain lions prefer to dine on deer. However, they’re also opportunistic. They will eat your beloved four-legged friend, or worse!

According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) website, “Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare. There have been only 16 verified attacks in California since 1890, six of them fatal. The last documented attack occurred in January of 2007, in Humboldt County. 

It has become increasingly common for mountain lions to prey on pets and livestock as more people move into mountain lion habitat. The CDFW receives hundreds of reports annually of mountain lions killing pets and livestock.”

Since California’s Mountain Lion Initiative (Prop. 117) passed in 1990, mountain lions are protected mammals. It’s unlawful to kill a cougar unless it’s perceived to be an imminent threat to you, your livestock or your domestic animals. Anyone who captures, injures, or kills a mountain lion should be prepared to report the incident to CDFW, turn in the carcass, be subjected to an extensive depredation investigation (including a complete necropsy of the cat), etc.

As deer migrate to lower elevations in search of food and water, so do their predators. Keen awareness of your surroundings is a must.

Bringing pets indoors from pre-dusk until post-dawn is advised. 

When outdoors, stay safe in cougar country by checking your back trail frequently. 

Avoid walking by dense underbrush and overhangs. 

Carry pepper spray, rocks, and a big stick. 

Be noisy. 

Don’t hike alone.

Never bend over or run, which makes you look like prey.

If you come across a cougar, face it. 

Stand your ground. 

Look as big as possible. 

Hold out your arms and extend your fingers. 

Throw those rocks and that big stick. 

Let out a blast of pepper spray only if it won’t blow back onto you! 

If ambush attacked (likely from behind or above) give it your best shot and fight back.

Whether or not you see them, mountain lions are among us. Enjoy this sensational coastal paradise, but please be safe.