Seeing is believing

A former co-worker sent me a couple of e-mails in recent weeks of cougars (aka mountain lions) caught on trail cams around Minnesota. The first picture was reportedly taken near Truman and depicted a large cougar dragging a dead deer. The second image, reportedly captured on a trail cam in Champlin, also showed clear evidence that these critters are lurking around Minnesota in the dark of night.

The images arrived in my e-mail inbox after a conversation he and I had about a recent report of a cougar sighting near Brewster. The police report has been on my desk for a few weeks now … I just hadn’t found the time to check with our region’s DNR folks about these interesting claims.

Ideally, I would have liked to write a story about cougar sightings for today’s paper. Why today’s? Well, it was 18 years ago today that my dad experienced one of the most memorable and scary times of his life on our rural Worthington farm.

Dad and his faithful dog, Smokey, had gone out to the barn in the morning to do chores … my chores. I was away at Brookings, finishing up my first semester of classes after transferring to SDSU, and I still had a herd of about 20 goats down on the farm.

Anyway, Dad opened the barn door, Smokey went inside and immediately began to bark up a storm. From the corner of his eye, Dad caught a glimpse of the big feline just as it sprang from the hay bales, leaped over a panel and escaped through an open door in the lean-to.

As you can imagine, my dad was pretty shook up by the experience. He hurried to the house, called my older brother to come right over and they went back to the barn to survey the damage … guns in hand. Surprisingly, the big cat ignored the potential feast of goat meat, and my folks never noticed a shortage of barn cats.

After checking the barn they went out to the cattle yard, where the prints were clearly visible in the fresh fallen snow. That’s when they decided to call the district conservationist to come out and have a look.

As Dad tells the story, the conservationist didn’t believe the report … laughed about it, in fact. Even today, Dad beams when he retells how the conservationist reacted to seeing the paw prints. Yes … seeing is believing.

After that first report Dad made, there had been a couple of other cougar sightings in the area. Those of you long-time Worthingtonians might remember that the cougar my dad reported back on Dec. 10, 1991, was trapped in a tree along, I believe, Ash Road on Worthington’s southeast side a few weeks later. The big cat was shot with a tranquilizer gun, but not before then-Daily Globe photographer Shawn Elsing shot the beautiful beast with his camera.

For the longest time, Shawn’s picture of the cougar hung on the dining room wall in my parents’ house. Each time company would come over and see the print for the first time, Dad would tell his story … and always with the same amount of excitement.

For weeks after that frightening experience, Dad carried a gun with him anytime he went outside … and especially when he went to the barn to do chores. He also developed a habit of sending Smokey inside first with the command to "sick’em!"

I still plan to write a story about cougar sightings one of these days. I haven’t seen any recent reports of them, however. If you hear of any, send me an e-mail or give me a call.

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