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Cougar search underway after Deer Lake horse attacked

Wildlife officials are searching for a cougar that they believe attacked a horse that later had to be euthanized near Deer Lake on Tuesday night.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife responded to a home off North Deer Lake Road shortly after 6 p.m., where they found a horse with severe front leg injuries, said Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Pam Taylor.

“It was going to lose a leg and needed to be put down,” Taylor said.

The case is one of several cougar incidents local Fish and Wildlife officials have responded to in the last five weeks. In late June, two goats were killed, likely by a cougar, near Fairchild Air Force Base. In early July, wildlife officials believe a cougar killed two llamas near Newman Lake.

There were multiple sightings of a cougar within Spokane city limits on July 5 in the Balboa-South Indian Trail Neighborhood. After more reports were called in on July 6, wildlife and Spokane police officers followed a tip to a cougar in a tree near Salk Middle School. The cougar was euthanized.

In Tuesday’s attack on the horse, officials called out a tracker who uses hounds and attempted to find the cougar but was unsuccessful Wednesday, Taylor said.

The cougar initially was spotted by a staff member at Camp Gifford, a Salvation Army retreat about a quarter mile from where the horse was attacked, said Jeff Potts, director of the camp. Staff called the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife immediately, he said.

Teenagers who were staying in the wilderness area of the 140-acre Christian camp were moved closer to the lodges and other buildings for safety, Potts said. 

“We haven’t had any further sightings,” Potts said Wednesday night.

Taylor said it is rare for a cougar to attack a horse without being injured or killed. When a cougar attacks, the horse usually stomps the cougar until the attack stops, she said.

Investigators believe the cougar was drawn to the lake from areas of higher elevation due to the extremely dry conditions.

“All kinds of critters come down to the lake,” Taylor said of the dry season. “It becomes more common to see cougars and bears.”

The Fish and Wildlife Department maintains an online list of recommendations when encountering cougars in the wild to avoid an attack. Those who see a cougar are encouraged not to run because the animal’s natural instinct is to chase, according to the department. Also, onlookers should not approach the animal as it may be protective of its young or a kill.

If found, the cougar will be euthanized, Taylor said.

“There’s not really any danger to citizens,” Taylor said. “That’s just not common cougar behavior.”

Kevin Robinette, regional wildlife manager for Fish and Wildlife, said cougars usually try to remain undetected.

“They’re going to mainly avoid people,” he said.

About 140 campers are staying at Camp Gifford, Potts said. Parents with concerns can contact the camp by phone at (509) 233-2511.

Rich Landers and Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.