David Gu was walking with his family to the garage outside their Gordon Head home on Monday when they witnessed a deer bouncing through the yard and the blur of a larger animal darting behind the garage.
It was about 11 a.m. and Gu was ready to drive his five-year-old daughter to preschool from their place on the 4300 block of Gordon Head Road, a block north of where Gordon Head changes into Ferndale Road.
Instead, Gu followed the animal around back of his garage to see what it was, thinking maybe it was a neighbour’s dog.
“It had a long tail and was very furry for a dog. I figured I’d go back and see what it was,” he said. “There he was three steps from me, thank God it wasn’t startled or anything. I said, ‘Oh, excuse me,’ and backed away.”
Conservation officer Peter Pauwels later described the cougar as a healthy adult male about four to five years old and weighing about 120 to 130 pounds.
By stumbling across the animals Gu may have inadvertently spared the deer’s life while moments later the cougar spared his own life. Upon retreating inside the house Gu reported the animal, and Saanich Pound officer Susan Ryan was dispatched.
Ryan then called in Pauwels. It took about two hours in total for a third-party contractor to show up with a pack of hounds. And the cat was still there. When the dogs flushed it out, it came from a deep impression in the garden where it had been hidden from view just metres from the garage. The hounds spooked the cat straight up the nearest tree where Pauwels was able to safely sedate and remove it. He released it into the wild, saying only it was on southern Vancouver Island.
“There’s a million things that can go wrong when they come into the city, even if it’s up a tree,” Pauwels said. “You can kill a cougar very easily. It can fall the wrong way, the dart can hit it in the wrong spot, or it can bail out of the tree and get [severely] injured and you have to destroy it.”
Judging by the impression in the ground the cougar had been using this spot for at least the two-hour wait, if not previously in the last day or so, Pauwels said.
“It’s not surprising that the cougar would still be there,” Pauwels said. “They’re nocturnal and in the daylight they lay low and hide. The dogs smelled it. [People] wouldn’t have [found it there].”
Conservation officers use the dogs only when there’s been a relatively fresh sighting.
This was the first cougar to be tranquilized and removed from an urban setting in Greater Victoria since a cougar was located in James Bay in October 2015, which was released in the wild of the South Island. The last cougar to enter the Greater Victoria core was destroyed by a Victoria Police officer in Esquimalt in May 2017.
Pauwels said most cougar calls are in the rural areas and involve livestock issues. It’s not ideal to use the hounds in an urban area, he added, citing safety issues.
Getting the cougar in a tree is ideal. It’s even more ideal when it’s not too high up, as it was on Monday.
For Gu, the experience has him and his wife wondering about a different incident involving a deer last year.
“That time we had a deer that was standing in our front yard, very bloody, and it died [in front of me] on our lawn,” Gu said. “Saanich Pound also came that time. I was told it could have been bitten by a cougar. I’m just glad this cougar was removed safely. It could have been living in my yard.”