Erin Laberge sees cougars on her family’s property every year, but a cougar approaching within metres of her was a little too close for comfort.
Laberge, 18, was riding her bike home from work Monday and was just minutes away from her home in the Jingle Pot Road area when she happened upon a cougar near Mountainview Elementary School, on East Wellington Road.
Laberge saw a car coming her way and what looked like a golden retriever dog in the ditch near the end of a driveway, so she pedaled toward it, concerned the dog might jump out in front of the oncoming car. The car passed and Laberge continued past.
“As soon as I biked by what I thought was the dog looked up at me and I just skidded to a stop,” Laberge said. “I thought, ‘Holy, that’s a cougar.'”
Laberge said she has had lots of training on how to deal with cougars, but admits she got scared and for a moment thought she could outrun the cat. That proved to be a bad idea when the cougar came after her and at one point got to within seven metres.
“You know how you have a bad dream and you’re running away from something with your legs shaking? It was like that,” she said.
Laberge mustered up enough nerve to stop, turn and face the cat, get off her bike and yell at it while ringing her bike bell.
The cat halted, but instead of fleeing, stayed in the ditch across the road and watched her while she pedaled back to the school. Once there she called her father to come get her.
Laberge has lived in the area since 2004 and has seen cougars every year.
“They’re around my property a lot,” she said. “It’s really common to have them around there. It’s just really uncommon to have one bug someone like that.”
Sgt. Sheryl Armstrong, Nanaimo RCMP spokeswoman, said police called conservation officers who responded with tracking dogs.
“The conservation officers had two hounds with them and they were able to pick up a scent from a cougar, which they tracked for a short period of time before the scent was lost,” Armstrong said.
There have been several reports of cougars in Nanaimo this year, but this is the first confirmed sighting in 2011, she said, and people should maintain a keen awareness about the environment they are working or recreating in.
If anyone encounters a cougar the best defence is a good offence.
“You have to stand up to the cougar,” Armstrong said. “You can’t run away. As soon as you turn your back there’s a strong possibility they will strike.”
She said police and conservation officers were impressed with Laberge’s response.
Laberge said she thought the cougar was not desperately hungry or it likely would have chased her more aggressively, but she thinks the public, especially young children living in the area should be warned about the cat’s presence. She is also leery about cycling that route home again for a while.
“You kind of lose your common sense when you’re scared like that and that’s why I started to bike away so fast,” Laberge said. “It’s a good thing I remembered my training or it could have been a lot worse.”