Horse owners claim cougar attack, state disagrees
On the morning of June 3, Katie Ott walked outside her home on Parrett Mountain and came upon a distressing sight. One of her three horses, a 2-year-old gelding named Arthur, was limping toward her in visible pain.
Ott said she rushed to Arthur's aid and found scratches all over his body and a massive gash in his back-right leg. She called local veterinarians when her husband, Chris, arrived. He claims to have found their mare, 17-year-old Chips, standing near a hole in the fence with deep wounds and scratches on her neck, shoulders, sides and legs.
Both horses were rushed to Oakhurst Equine Veterinary Service in Newberg, where a group of vet techs worked on cleaning the horse's wounds and stitching them up for a total of six hours. The Otts believe that a cougar attacked the horses on their Corral Creek Road property.
"Chips has been my show horse and Arthur was supposed to be her replacement once she retired," Katie Ott said. "I do lessons with junior high and high school-age kids with these horses and often in conjunction with those students' horses. I use them as teaching opportunities in addition to my experience in the horse world."
Based on their individual work schedules, the Otts think the injuries occurred between 1 and 5 a.m. June 3, and they believe it was either a juvenile cougar with little experience bringing down a large animal, or a mother cougar teaching a juvenile.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife concluded otherwise. Evidence was reviewed by investigators from the ODFW and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, who concluded that the incident on the Otts' property was not a cougar attack, but didn't offer any theories on what caused the injuries to the horses.
"A total of six staff from both agencies with years of experience investigating depredation incidents reviewed photos of the injured horses," ODFW communications coordinator Michelle Dennehy said. "The injuries observed in the photos were not consistent with cougar. Cougar wounds typically involve large punctures to the dorsal surface of the neck with limited, short-length, vertical scratch marks. In contrast, the photographed wounds showed numerous long-length, horizontal scratches to sides, shoulders, hindquarters, legs, chest and the rest of body as well as a large open wound to the front left shoulder."
A federal agent with Wildlife Services investigated the property and found no sign of a cougar — tracks, blood or otherwise. No other depredations have been reported in the area, Dennehy said, despite neighbors owning sheep and goats — far more common victims of cougar attacks than horses.
The Otts are upset with ODFW's conclusion and demand the agency look further into the matter. They claim neighbors within a 25-mile radius have seen a cougar in the last month and Katie Ott has taken to Facebook to voice her displeasures while providing updates on her horses' conditions.
"I feel like my horses' incredible fight, their story, their bravery, means nothing," she wrote in a Facebook post on June 14. "And I fear someone else will soon feel the gut-wrenching pain I'm feeling every hour of every day, when their precious animal is hurt, because the state has done nothing and won't even warn people. I feel defeated."
Regardless of how they were caused, the wounds are devastating, with both horses fighting infections and the younger Arthur's life in peril. Some of the gashes on the horses expose bone, and scratch marks run all the way down their sides. The Otts' theory is that Arthur was laying down when a cougar attacked and he struggled to defend himself, while Chips stepped in to defend her gelding and eventually chased the big cat out a hole in the Otts' fence.
There is one other horse on the property and a llama, both of which remained unharmed. Although Katie said the older, male horse is much faster than the other two and showed signs of swelling in his legs like he'd been running all night.
Both Arthur and Chips remain at Oakhurst under the watchful eye of veterinarians, who also believe the injuries are consistent with a cougar attack, contradicting the state's conclusion. Katie and Chris visit the horses every day to check on them.
"Their condition, so far, has been up and down," Katie Ott said. "Chips is fairly stable, but she still has wounds all over her body that are still draining. Arthur has a major chunk out of his back leg that they are fighting to try and get closed up. He is also fighting a bad infection and is really touch-and-go right now."
Given that Arthur's most significant wound can't be closed up now and will take months to close on its own, posing a risk of a serious infection and potential joint damage, it is unclear at this point whether he will make it home or have to be put down. The outlook is more optimistic for Chips, who should return home soon but will no longer be sound enough to be ridden or used as a show horse. She essentially will be retired from that activity.
Vet bills cost roughly $1,000 a day for both horses, the Otts said. While Katie said she and her husband set aside money to pay the initial bills, they started a GoFundMe to raise money for the rest. As of June 16, the GoFundMe — which claims a cougar attack as the cause of the horses' injuries — had raised almost $12,000.
"The outpouring of well wishes from friends and family and people we don't even know has been amazing," Chris Ott said. "We are so grateful for the support from the community and people online who we've never met."
Those interested in donating to the GoFundMe effort can visit bit.ly/2AZmqNT.
Cougars have been found responsible for attacks on livestock in the Newberg area in the past. A horse was mauled and a dog killed by a cougar off Dog Ridge Road about a decade ago and a goat was killed by a cougar on Parrett Mountain in the early 2000s.
If you live in the Newberg area and spot a cougar, you are encouraged to contact the ODFW with the location so officials can determine the best course of action to protect humans and livestock.
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