The Right Coast

April 03, 2004
Critter Update
By Tom Smith

Out for a hike today with all four boys, spouse, sister, her federal judge husband and their three girls, and my two labs. Trish the triathelete was in running kit, so she takes off running, followed by Biscuit (aka "wormbutt" to the kids, after super-Nanny and ranch girl Heidi ruined my day a few days back by looking at my demure yellow lab, leaning over, and standing back up with an ugly little white worm segment in her hand; Biscuit grinned stupidly.) Denali the miracle dog, who defied veternary science and survived after a week in the doggy ICU from heat stroke, gimpily ran after. He is the very soul of the lab motto, "no brain, no pain." Of course, the group got separated into parts. At one point, Jeanne and I found ourselves temporarily alone on the trail and it was almost like being married. It was the most privacy we'd had in, oh, a year or so.

Critterwise, the news is this. On the way back, we ran into a country-looking woman and her young daughter, walking their large bloodhound. She said to me something like "Is that your trackmaker?" I didn't understand her at first. She had that East County accent, which I guess is, to use the un-PC term, "Okie" in origin. I also didn't know what a "trackmaker" was. It turns out she meant, had my dog made the tracks she had seen further up the road. I had noticed the tracks too, like those of a large dog, with very prominent claw marks. I said no, and she told me I should not be letting my children run ahead of me, as there was, she claimed, a mountain lion in the area. She said she had seen one near her sister's, as if I should know where that was. Not far, I gathered.

When we got to the tracks, Judge Paul said that cougars have retractable claws, so the prints could not be lion. I'm not so sure. The tracks were in mud that had hardened. Perhaps a lion would have used his claws for purchase on the soft mud? The tracks looked feline to me, like those of a 120 pound tabby. Seven year old William leant over, felt the hard tracks and announced authoritatively that they were old, as if his name were really Runs-Like-the-Buffalo. Where did he get that? He was quite right. The tracks were a least a couple of days old, but I have never told him anything about tracking.

To be on the safe side, we herded the kids together and walked home as a group. I wasn't too worried, but I could do without thinking about lions eating my children when I'm out for a stroll straight out my back door. I own a handgun, and now have two reasons to bring it along, the other being the two legged predators who can show up in the Southern Californian bush. It would be illegal, of course, so I leave it home. I suppose Judge Paul could have attempted to enjoin any attacks.

FYI cougar seem to prefer children, though adults will do, and usually the attack is from behind. If you confront one, don't run. They like that. Yell at it and throw rocks. But don't be afraid. They can smell your fear. If you get attacked anyway, it would be a good time to reconsider your agnosticism. Also, fight like hell. It will try to bite your face, head and neck. Getting your arms in the way might help, and kicks and punches to the short ribs are reputed to be especially painful to big cats and dogs. But realistically, at this point you are probably dead. Too bad you didn't bring that gun along!

The recent wildfires destroyed a lot of prime lion habitat in the Cuyamaca mountains, about 45 minutes east northeast of us. Perhaps cougar are moving into new ranges, looking for kiddy chow. It's probably for the best I can't bring the gun, though, as I would be tempted to shoot the ATV drivers and motorcyclists who trespass on the land, ripping it up and making a lot of noise and dust in the process. Maybe the cougars should eat them.