Cougar, bearspotted on outskirts of Blaine

Published on Thu, Jul 29, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Cougar, bear spotted on outskirts of Blaine

By Jack Kintner

People living on the eastern outskirts of Blaine have seen both a cougar and a black bear roaming the upper reaches of the Dakota Creek watershed within the past two weeks. At least one family has lost a small dog, they suspect to the cougar, and others report hearing screams loud enough to wake them up at night.

Dana Swearinger, who lives on her great-grandparents’ Hoier Road homestead with her husband Gary and four children, saw a black bear on Tuesday or Wednesday of last week at the intersection of Hoier and Haynie roads.

“It was about 9:15,” she said, “and I was on my way to pick up one of the kids and stopped at the stop sign and the bear was across the road eating berries along the fence line. I’m quite sure it was a black bear, and when it saw me it hid for a while.”

Swearinger called 911. Dispatchers promised to have the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) call her back, so instead of driving north to H Street where her cell reception isn’t very good she waited at the intersection.

“Five minutes later the bear comes out of the bushes, kind of sniffs around and them climbs through the fence, crosses the road and descends down into the Dakota Creek ravine,” Swearinger said. She returned later that night concerned that area residents know about the animal but was unable to contact anyone.

“People should know about this,” she said, “because I know little kids sleep out at night a lot when it’s hot like this.” At presstime, she had yet to be contacted by the DFW.

The cougar has been seen repeatedly by at least six different people, most recently this past weekend by H Street resident Brian Pukaluk, a commercial crab fisherman and experienced hunter. He was on his way home about midnight Saturday when he saw the full-sized cougar sitting on the sidewalk in front of Pat Croft’s house at 811 Odell Street just south of the H Street Road intersection.

Pukaluk’s mother, with whom he lives when not fishing or hunting in Alaska, said that they’ve heard it on more than one occasion from their house, usually a shriek or scream of some kind “but very loud, throaty and wild sounding.” She also said that on a couple of occasions the past two weeks she’s heard shots “that seem to be coming from down the bank, south of us.”

Rhonda and Frank Bresnan and their boys Alex, 14, and Adam, nine, live across Odell Street from Croft and have seen the big cat twice. “We came home from a bike ride about quarter to ten a week ago last Friday, on the 16th, and saw something down by a boxwood hedge that runs along the front of our property,” said Rhonda Bresnan, “so I went to get a closer look and there it was, looking fairly husky with that long tail they have. I have absolutely no doubt that it was a cougar.”

Bresnan added that when she pulled up her garage door after hearing some screaming a week ago on Thursday, July 19, she saw it again. “We have dogs, and so do friends in the area, and for the past month or more they’ve been going nuts about 1 or 2 a.m. and about 4 or 5 a.m.,” she said.

Croft first spotted the cougar a few weeks ago when out in her back yard at midnight to retrieve her housecat. She lit a cigarette and began looking for her cat when she noticed another cat, a big one, walking up the sidewalk on Odell Street toward H Street.

“I called to it, like kitty kitty kitty, and it turned and looked at me, and I thought to myself that’s one really big cat,” she said, “really really big.” She told her daughter and another friend but discounted the suggestion that it might be a cougar as did Washington Department of Wildlife officials with whom she initially spoke, some of whom suggested it might have been a coyote or perhaps a bear.

But later at a garage sale Croft heard Stafholt nurse Jude Gray tell a story about having to chase a cougar out of her duck pond in the 4300 block of Pipeline Road a couple of months ago.

“I heard a cat scream as if it was fighting, but no answering scream, which can mean one cat is fighting off another kind of animal,” said Gray. “Then I heard something splashing in the duck pond and went out and saw this cougar across my pond, retreating into the woods.”
Croft is now keeping her pets inside at night, and wants the story to circulate. “Little kids camp out at night in the summer,” she said, “so their parents should know about this.”

For Brad and Shannon Breivik’s little seven-pound chihuahua, warnings came too late. “Three Saturdays ago (July 10), while we were gone camping,” said Shannon Breivik, “our son Michael had to call our big dog back from something he was barking at in our upper field. Our little dog then went after whatever it was while Michael went off to run a quick errand. Ten minutes later he returned to find that the chihuahua was gone.”

She said that it could have been coyotes that made a meal of the family pet, but for it to happen that quickly with no sign of a struggle and no collar left behind has them thinking that the cougar seen in the area is responsible.

Michael’s father Brad later went out to investigate and said he found signs of big cat activity near the old Blaine reservoir off the east end of Pipeline Road. The Breiviks live on Owl Lane, just south of the watershed that includes a salmon hatchery run by Blaine high school students.

Police chief Mike Haslip said the Blaine police department first heard about the cougar on Sunday, July 25. “It’s been awhile but this kind of thing is not unknown,” he said, “and usually we transfer the calls on to animal control. If you’re looking at the animal as you report, then we’ll come out to help.”

Adult cougars may weigh over 200 pounds and their range may exceed 100 square miles, roughly twice the size of the Blaine school district.

If you see cougar in the area, call the Washington State Patrol, 676-2076, to be put in touch with the DFW.