Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Cougar Brings Us Sheep

Signs of spring:  This morning, when I stepped outside, I heard a crowd of little birds twittering in a tree.  I couldn't see them and don't know what sort of bird they are -- likely one of the many warblers or sparrows that migrate through here -- but I know that I hadn't heard that sound all winter.  To me, that makes it official:  spring is starting.

The rancher sprang to his feet at the sound of furious barking.  What he saw made him go for his gun. Loading it and rushing outside, he glanced at the carnage in the sheep pen on his way past, following the dog.  Down the hill, splashing across the creek, Rover was hot on the heels of a cougar, and the cougar had something white in its jaws.

By the time he caught up, his dog had treed the big cat.  It was on a branch, twenty feet up.  He aimed carefully and fired.


The lamb fell first as the cat dropped it.  It fell near the rancher, the cougar thudding down a second later.  He bent down to find, unbelievably, that the lamb  was still alive.  Carefully, he scooped it up and carried it back to the house, laid it in a box, and picked up the phone.

We'd been living in the valley for four years by then and I guess we had a reputation for being both caring and careful with our animals.  When we arrived at the ranch, there were three lambs waiting.  Two more had been found injured.  Their mothers were dead, but the lambs, it seemed, had received a quick shake to break their necks, and it hadn't quite worked.  They were obviously hurt, but could move all their legs, so we decided to take all three home and see if we could nurse them back to health.

We installed the patients behind the cookstove on a bed of papers and hay.  We treated the two with the injured backs for shock, with warmth and a bit of water with electrolytes.  Charles started clipping the hair away from the wounds on the third lanb's rear legs.  Both legs had been torn wide open, but the tendons were intact.  As he clipped, he found more cuts, then more again, and after lots of careful work, he'd pretty much shaved the poor little guy from tail to head.

Over the next few weeks, all three seemed to be making progress.  We moved them into a pen in the barn and rigged up slings so the two ewe lambs could begin to exercise their legs.  Unfortunately, the progress these two were making only went so far, and in the end, they didn't make it.  The little ram who had been up the tree with the cougar thrived, though.  We named him Sammy and turned him into quite a pet.  He'd trot around at my heels as I went about doing my chores, and he loved to be cuddled.

Sammy grew into a fine young ram.  He was a breed called Katahdin, and had hair rather than wool.  We bought him a pair of ewes and started our flock with these three.  When Sammy was two years old, he turned mean -- not with the ewes, but with people.  For the next eight years, we couldn't turn our backs on him, and I was very sorry that I'd raised him as such a pet.  He was beautiful, though.

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