Owner alleges cougar attack leads to horse's death
In June, a pair of horses at a property on Parrett Mountain suffered significant injuries after what their owners said was a cougar attack.
Deep scratches down their sides and gashes on their legs led a local veterinarian to agree with the owners' assessment, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife investigated the incident and determined that it was not a cougar.
Katie Ott's 17-year-old mare, Chips, has since suffered injuries in two similar incidents. The most recent of those occurred in the morning of Nov. 9 and led to the horse being put down that afternoon. Ott believes it was a cougar attack based on eyewitness accounts of a big cat in the area and the wounds Chips suffered.
"Sometime between midnight and 7 a.m., Chips was attacked again," Ott recounted. "I found her the next morning laying in the mud outside the barn, and when we tried to get her up, she couldn't put any weight on her back right leg. We found all the bite marks on her, including the largest one that opened up a deep wound. Bites and punctures were all down her leg, and while we were waiting for the vet to come up, she had two to three seizures."
The veterinarian examined Chips's leg and told Ott "for sure" that they were puncture wounds from a big cat's bite. The saliva from the bite, the veterinarian said, had likely infected the bone and made the prospect of Chips' recovery unlikely.
"We didn't have a choice but to put her down with the seizures and the whole neurological things she was dealing with," Ott said. "She wouldn't have been able to recover from the back leg, either. She didn't have any scratches on her body, but the blankets we put over her in the winter to keep her warm were torn, which made us think even further that it was a big cat."
Ott said she and her husband attempted to contact ODFW that day to have someone examine the horse's body, but didn't hear back before they decided to bury Chips on their property. They didn't want to leave the body out overnight and risk attracting whatever predator, cougar or otherwise, had been responsible for the attacks.
The next day, ODFW officials contacted the Otts. They sent an investigator out to the property, searched the surrounding area, examined the photos of the wounds and set up trail cams, Ott said.
"He believed quite strongly that we could be right about it being a cougar," Ott said of the investigator. "He actually admitted that to us. Although he didn't say definitively because they still have to conduct an investigation and keep an eye on those trail cams, one has been seen a mile away.
He said there is no way our fencing could be the cause, which is what (ODFW) tried to claim last time.
A subseqent statement from the ODFW disputed Ott's statement:
"The biologist on site told Mr. Ott that the injuries to the horse were not directly caused by a cougar, but there is a possibility that a coyote, domestic dog or other animal scared the horses into the fence, which caused the injury."
"There have been multiple people who have seen (the cougar) in the last couple months, and Chips was actually attacked a second time before this one where it took a chunk out of her front leg," Ott said. "Exactly two days before that second attack, someone posted a photo on Facebook that showed him one mile directly across from our place, a young cougar. It was spotted again right before the most recent attack, too."
Ott said she is hoping for a resolution that rids the Parrett Mountain area of the cougar, whether by trapping, hunting or however ODFW chooses to handle it. The investigation is ongoing and Ott said she feels more optimistic that something positive will come out of it this time. But she remains frustrated with how the matter was initially handled.
"That was our biggest frustration," Ott said. "I didn't even go outside when the most recent investigator came — I had my husband, Chris, do it. It was too soon and too fresh, and this has been a really emotional time, losing a horse we cared for over eight years. I am really frustrated with how this has been handled because Chips would still be here if (ODFW) had taken more interest the first time. It's too late now."
ODFW officials issued a more lengthy statement on Tuesday:
"The evidence ODFW and USDA Wildlife Services reviewed for the June incident clearly rules out a cougar being directly responsible for the injuries to the horses, but it is not sufficient to rule out fencing or other species beyond cougar," ODFW communications coordinator Michelle Dennehy said. "Since we were not promptly contacted on any other incident, we cannot definitively determine the direct cause of injuries and eventually death of the horse. That said, we did place cameras on the property last Friday Nov. 13 to investigate predator or other animal activity that may have contributed to the incident and are closely monitoring wildlife related damage reports in the area.
"We have not seen any predator activity on the trail cameras since they were set, and we have no verified recent reports of cougar sightings or livestock losses caused by a cougar. At this time we have no information to verify the horse died due to an attack by a cougar."
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