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Voyageur's Best Features of 2001

Cougar

You gotta do what you gotta do
 
Cougar shooting brings interest and unwanted attention
 
by Cynthia Brekke  |  September 4, 2001
 

There are those in this world who thrive on attention and will do anything to get it. They'll thrust themselves into the limelight any chance they get, or attach themselves to anyone they can, to get attention. On the other hand, you have your introverts; people who build tall fences around them, shy away from people and do anything to stay away from the limelight. The rest of us live somewhere in between.

I'm sure Jim Bennett didn't wake up Monday morning, August 27th, look at himself in the mirror and say: "Gee, I think I'll get everybody's attention and shoot a cougar."

Far from it. Jim Bennett lives in an out-of-the-way place — a quiet, peaceful place — for a reason. Not that he doesn't like company or visitors, but he likes the peace and quiet, too.

A month and a half ago, neighbors in the area saw a cougar hanging around. Jim saw a cougar as well, assuming it was the same one everyone else saw, a few hundred feet from his house north of Big Sandy Lake. He thought it was just passing through — these animals can, and do, cover a lot of territory.

In the dark, evening hours of Monday, August 27, Jim was returning to his home. He went to the kennel and let his dog, Shadow, out to do her evening constitutional. He was surprised when, the minute he let her out, she dashed for the porch. She was a dog with a mission: to protect her master from an intruding animal. Right before Jim's eyes, not more than 20 feet in front of him, his faithful companion lit into a wild cat — a cougar was on his front porch. "I can't imagine what would have happened if I had decided not to let her out of the kennel." Jim told me. "I would never have known it was there."

The fight ensued, and for a while, Shadow held her own. But it was becoming evident that she was losing ground when the cat managed to start gnawing at her head. At that point, Jim went to the fight and kicked the cougar, no doubt shouting at it, causing it to back off long enough for him to grab his dog and get inside.

But the cougar had the taste of blood.

Jim checked his dog over. She had a few lacerations, but she was okay. He figured he'd have her checked out by the vet, but in the meantime, decided to leave her inside the house for the night. This all happened around 11:00 p.m. Monday night. However, the fun wasn't over for Jim and Shadow.

At approximately 2:00 a.m., Tuesday morning, Shadow started going crazy. Jim investigated and, going to the front door, he turned on the light and saw the cougar out on the front porch, again. This time it was tearing the inside of the dog house apart. It proceeded to pull the bed pillow out and drag it around the corner of the house.

Fifteen minutes later, it was back, seemingly realizing it hadn't found food in the bed pillow, sitting on the porch, it's nose on the door knob. "I turned the lights on, banged on the door..." said Jim. "It wouldn't leave."

Jim called his friend from the DNR Forestry, Joe Wilson. "He told me, 'you can't let it run your life'." At this point, Jim knew what he had to do. It wouldn't go away, and the chances were, even if it retreated into the edge of the woods, it would be back. What if it attacked him? Was he supposed to wait for THAT to happen? "I could lay out there for days," he told me. "I hardly ever get company up here." Concerned for the safety of both himself and his companion, Jim got a gun, opened the door, and fatally shot the cougar.

It might as well have been the shot heard 'round Minnesota.

He phoned the DNR, who came up, took his statement and picked up the animal for examination. "They want you to call if there's something rare like this..." said Jim. What he didn't bank on, was the media attention this would get him. Soon he was being called by the major newspapers in Duluth and the Twin Cities. It was also reported to be on the television news. Jim's situation poses some peculiarities for the DNR. Cougars are exceptionally rare in Minnesota to begin with, besides not typically being a threat to humans. Normally, a loud noise is enough to scare them away. Jim's visitor did not display typical wildcat behavior. While unsure of how many cougars there are in the state, the DNR said that this is only the second verified shooting. The last unverified shooting was in the late 1970's, while the last verified was in 1897. Of the hundreds of sightings they've received in the state, the DNR said this is the first time a cougar has come onto a person's porch, since it's abnormal for them to even come near people.

Naturally, when something of this nature happens in the area, the rumors start to fly. Rumor number one was that the DNR was considering a fine on Jim for shooting the animal. FALSE. In fact, two area DNR Enforcement officers told him they would do the same thing in that situation. In a phone interview, DNR Officer Brent Speldrich stated that this would be news to him. Rumor number two: cubs have shown up, looking for the mother. That one is true. Cubs were spotted after the incident, but apparently they have since been livetrapped and transported to a transfer facility. They were examined and will be transported to the Minnesota Zoo. This was felt to be the best alternative, since the animals have already been exposed to humans.

Whatever the rumors, Jim will be glad when things simmer down and return to normal. As stated before, and as Jim put it: "I moved out here for a reason." Peace... quiet... solitude. And when you live in the wilds of Minnesota, there's always the chance you'll have an unwanted guest. Most of the time, it's a raccoon or a skunk — pesky, but tolerable to an extent. But when a bear is tearing at your screen door, or a cougar is eyeballing you — like lunch — from 20 feet away, well... sometimes, whether you like it or not, you gotta do what you gotta do.