May 22, 2013 in Idaho

Big cat attacks, kills dogs in fenced Boise back yards

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE — Three next-door neighbors in east Boise have had their small dogs attacked by a mountain lion in their fenced back yards in the past two weeks, and two of the dogs have died.

Idaho Fish and Game officials are calling on the public to immediately report incidents with mountain lions in town. The three attacks happened at Surprise Valley, a neighborhood on the city’s eastern edge that backs up to native sagebrush land; it’s the first mountain lion incident reported in Boise this spring, but the city’s had plenty in recent years.

“We have mountain lions in Boise all the time,” said Evin Oneale, Southwest Idaho regional conservation educator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game “They come and go all the time. Some of them we see, some of them we don’t, but they don’t tend to cause any issues or hang around. It’s when we have a lion like this that exhibits this kind of behavior that our awareness of the situation becomes heightened.”

Fish and Game learned of the big cat when a Surprise Valley resident called the sheriff’s department yesterday morning. She’d let her two Yorkshire terriers out into her backyard about 5:30 a.m., and a few minutes later, heard a yelp. “She came to the door, saw one of her dogs, didn’t see the other one,” Oneale said. “It was making its way back to the house. She caught a movement to her right, and she glanced over and there was a large cat sitting on her fence. And while she stood there, the cat leapt off the fence and went after this dog. She screamed and ran inside to try to find something to maybe scare the cat away. She came back out and the cat was gone, the dog was sitting there.”

The woman described the animal as a large, tan cat, and said since she didn’t see a tail, she thought it was a bobcat, “which is a reasonable assumption,” Oneale said. Sheriff’s dispatchers contacted Idaho Fish & Game, and officers found that the bite marks on the woman’s remaining Yorky were too big for a bobcat. “We figured that we probably had a mountain lion that we were dealing with,” Oneale said.

Officers then went behind the woman’s house, and found the other dog, dead, about 20 yards behind her back fence. It had matching bite marks. They began interviewing neighbors, and just this morning heard back from an adjacent neighbor who said about a week ago, he let his dog out into his fenced back yard about 3:30 a.m., and shortly thereafter heard it fighting with another animal. “He described it as a fox-looking animal,” Oneale said. “It was dark, about 3:30 in the morning. But the bite wounds on his dog that survived were consistent.”

Then, it turned out another adjacent neighbor, about a week before that, had gone out into his back yard and found his small dog mortally wounded, “and they ended up having to put it down at the vet, because it was too badly injured to survive,” Oneale said. “Neither one of those incidents were known to us. … Had we had that information, it might have been a different scenario. We really need the public to help us out and report any kind of incident related to a mountain lion to us as quickly as it can, because if a trail goes cold, and it really does quickly with mountain lions, that diminishes our ability to track them. They’re very secretive animals, they make their living by hiding. They’re ambush predators.”

Fish and Game officers found no tracks in the hard-baked ground behind the homes; they set up trail cameras, but when they checked them this morning, found only video of lots of people walking their dogs and one coyote.

“A lot of things lead us to believe that it’s probably a young male lion on its own for the first time, and it’s having a hard time making a living, and it’s decided that domestic pets are a good option,” Oneale said. “At this point, it’s crossed the line that we have in place regarding cat behavior, in terms of the fact that it’s killed and gone after and killed other pets.”

One good sign, Oneale said: The cat was clearly frightened away when the woman screamed, and abandoned both the dog it was attacking and the one it already had killed and taken outside the yard. The theory is that the initial yelp was the lion grabbing the first dog and taking it over the fence, before returning for the second one. “If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this cat is obviously afraid of people,” Oneale said. “It fled as soon as she was there.”

He said, “Folks need to get hold of us right away. Call our office and let us know, hey, this happened, and give us as much detail as they can, and we’ll get an officer out right away to talk with them and see if we can maybe track this cat down. Because we’re not interested in seeing anybody’s pets get hurt, so the sooner we catch this cat, the better off everybody will be.”

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