Mountain Lion Attacks Woman in Northern California

A young male mountain lion from the central Santa Monica Mountains in Jan., 2021. (Jeff Sikich/U.S. National Park Service/TNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (The Sacramento Bee/TNS) — A woman’s dog was badly wounded Monday while fighting off a mountain lion that attacked its owner, California wildlife officials say.

“I think it’s safe to assume that dog probably saved her life,” Capt. Patrick Foy of the Department of Fish and Wildlife told The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday.

The attack happened in a remote area of Northern California just after 3 p.m. along Highway 299 in the Big Bar area in Trinity County, a four hour-drive northwest of Sacramento.

The woman, whose name was not released, pulled off the side of the highway to go for a walk along the Trinity River with her Belgian Malinois. Foy said he didn’t immediately know the name and gender of the dog.

The mountain lion pounced on the woman from behind, digging its claws into her left shoulder, Foy said. The dog was out a few feet in front of his owner on the trail.

The woman screamed, the dog heard it and it turned around and started fighting the cougar, Foy said.

“The dog and the lion were in a pretty vicious fight,” he said.

The mountain lion bit into the dog’s head and wouldn’t let go.

“So the woman attempted to throw rocks. She tugged at it. She pulled. She even attempted to gouge the eyes out,” Foy said. “She couldn’t drive it off the dog.”

Foy said the woman had no choice but to run back to the highway and get help.

She flagged down a passing motorist who happened to have pepper spray in the car. They ran down and tried spraying the lion in the face, Foy said.

“That had no effect,” Foy said.

The cougar began dragging off the trail the 50- to 55-pound dog by its head.

North Coast journalist Kym Kemp interviewed local woman Sharon Houston, who said she was the motorist who helped the woman whose dog was attacked. Both of them beat on the lion to try to make it let go, Houston said.

”I thought, ‘Here we go,’” Houston told Kemp’s local news blog, Redheaded Blackbelt. “So I started hitting it on the head, trying to get it to let go. … I was just trying to get that thing away.”

The cat eventually let go and ran off.

The woman, still bleeding from her own wounds, hopped back in her car to try save the dog that saved her.

“She took it right to the vet, and they started working on it immediately to try to save the dog’s life,” Foy said. “And the dog is not out of the woods yet.”

The woman’s injuries were not life-threatening, but she might need to be treated for rabies as a precaution, Foy said.

Meanwhile, investigators collected DNA samples off her and the dog that are being analyzed Tuesday at a Sacramento-area lab. Wildlife officials are going to try to capture the mountain lion in a trap. The DNA will be used to confirm if it’s the same cougar, which the woman told investigators didn’t appear to be healthy, Foy said.

Typically, state officials will kill cougars after documented attacks on people.

In 1990, California voters banned mountain lion hunting, but the ballot initiative allows wildlife officers to kill lions deemed a “public safety” threat.

Since 1986, mountain lions have killed three people in California, and attacked around 17 others non-fatally, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Such attacks on people are exceedingly rare, considering thousands of mountain lions share habitat with California’s 39 million people. Studies have repeatedly shown that cougars live across the state and that humans usually have no idea their giant feline neighbors are around, typically prowling at night. Their preferred prey is deer, though they’ll eat everything from skunks to domestic dogs and cats.

Foy said the woman did everything his agency advises to do in order to fight off a mountain lion attack, including making loud noises and using rocks and whatever else is handy to try to beat on the big cat to make it leave.

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