Regional parks staff posted warnings at the Witchcraft Lake Trail head after a cougar made off with a Nanaimo woman’s dog while she was hiking in Mount Benson Regional Park Wednesday. Conservation officers are warning people cougars normally inhabit the park and hikers should keep dogs leashed or avoid taking their pets into the woods altogether.

Regional parks staff posted warnings at the Witchcraft Lake Trail head after a cougar made off with a Nanaimo woman’s dog while she was hiking in Mount Benson Regional Park Wednesday. Conservation officers are warning people cougars normally inhabit the park and hikers should keep dogs leashed or avoid taking their pets into the woods altogether.

Cougar attack on dog prompts warning

NANAIMO – Dog snatched by cougar in front of owner while hiking on Witchcraft Lake Trail on Mount Benson.

A Nanaimo woman is reeling from seeing her dog taken and killed by a cougar.

Serra Stewart was returning from a hike with her father and three dogs on Witchcraft Lake Trail, in Mount Benson Regional Park, Wednesday at about 11 a.m. On a steep section of the trail, about 20 minutes from the parking lot on Wilkinson Road, a cougar appeared, eyed up the dogs that were off-leash and about seven metres away and snatched Charlie, Stewart’s eight-year-old female dog.

“It was just there. The dogs didn’t bark or anything,” Stewart said in a text message. “It looked at all three and grabbed my girl. She screamed, only for about five to 10 seconds, and it was done. I lost it, threw my backpack and ran down the mountain after it. Of course, what’s the point? She was gone and no way I can catch a cougar.”

Sgt. Ben York, mid-Island region conservation officer supervisor, said in this case the cougar exhibited natural behaviour, given the circumstances.

“As far as that cougar’s concerned, a small dog matches its prey profile,” York said. “The complainant was in a wilderness area and it’s normal for cougars to be hunting there.”

York said Stewart and her father acted correctly by calling back the other dogs and leaving the area.

Conservation officers patrolled the park, but failed to find the cougar, and asked regional parks staff to post warnings about the encounter on the trail. The notices were up Thursday morning.

York also said conservation officers would not take action against the animal.

“As it happened out in wilderness territory and didn’t attack a human, they wouldn’t kill it, which honestly, I am grateful for,” Stewart said. “I feel like we actually may have surprised it coming down, as the wind was blowing up the mountain, so it wouldn’t have had our scents. I really think it was one of those freak things.”

York said dogs should be on a leash for their protection in the wilderness, but he’d prefer not to see pets taken into the woods at all since they can attract predators or chase a predator and have an animal, such as a bear, turn and defend itself.

York said if confronted by a cougar, make yourself look big, behave aggressively, throw things and try to scare it off.

“If you are attacked by a cougar, fight back for all you’re worth,” York said. “If a cougar does take your pet, don’t try to defend the pet. Just accept that it’s not worth your life to defend your pet.”

York said the Island has a high-density cougar population and whenever people are in the woods they should assume cougars are always present.

“We do recommend people carry bear spray when they are hiking in the woods and it is effective on everything, not just bears,” York said. “Certainly thousands of people take their dogs for a walk on a wilderness trail with nothing like this happening, so we’re talking worst-case scenario.”

In case of an emergency involving a bear or cougar or to report poachers and polluters, please call the B.C. Ministry of Environment at 1-877-952-7277.

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