Colfax women believe a cougar attacked their horses

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  Many people are aware that we have bears, coyotes, bobcats and wolves in the area.

But cougars?

Stephanie Dusek and Stephanie Frogner, who live south of Colfax in the county Highway N area, both believe that their horses were attacked by a cougar within the past several weeks.

On Friday, October 12, Dusek said she came home from work and noticed that her oldest horse, a 25-year-old mare, was favoring her left leg.

Upon closer inspection, she realized the mare had claw marks on her leg and scratches, scrapes and puncture wounds.

Then she noticed scratches, scrapes and puncture wounds on her other horses.

“I had the vet come out and look at our older horse. He confirmed it was an animal attack,” Dusek said.

Dusek said she found out that a horse belonging to Stephanie Frogner, who lives just down the road a short distance, also had been attacked by “something.”

In fact, two of Frogner’s horses were attacked on two separate occasions.

“Lots of puncture wounds. Lots of long claw marks four or five or six inches long. On the hindquarters, some on the chest, but basically all over. On my little white pony, it looks like something came at him with two paws a couple of feet apart,” Dusek said.

“The scratches, the wounds, were pretty deep. The puncture wounds were pretty big too. Not quite the size of a dime, but close,” she said.

“At first we just thought it was the one horse that got injured. It scares me even more knowing that all three were attacked, and it was obviously a longer period of time that ‘thing’ was in there to do that kind of damage,” Dusek said.

Night attack

Dusek believes the horses were attacked the night of Thursday, October 11.

“When we do chores in the morning, it’s dark, so we really couldn’t see anything until Friday afternoon,” Dusek said.

“We have an electric fence. The fence was intact. It was not down anywhere. It had to be something that could get under the fence without taking it down. If it was able to crawl under the fence, it would have been a really small bear, and I don’t think it could have done that kind of damage to the horses,” she said.

Dusek and Frogner have both contacted USDA Wildlife Services and the state Department of Natural Resources.

One gentleman, Frogner said, believed that it was not a bear that had attacked the horses and was leaning toward the idea of a cougar.

Cougars, however, “were outside of his jurisdiction,” Frogner said.

Representatives for the state Department of Natural Resources say they need physical evidence of a cougar — pictures of the animal or paw prints or hair samples, she noted.

“We’re trying to warn people about this,” Frogner said.

“We are trying to get the word out to everybody. There are kids who play out in the woods by our house, and I want people to know they maybe shouldn’t be doing that. People who have dogs, too, should be aware if they are letting them out at night,” Dusek said.

As for the horses, Wildlife Services has said Dusek should keep lights shining in the horse pasture at night and keep a radio on at night, too.

“We’ve had the radio on every night, and we’ve got the big lights on,” Dusek said.

“I know we have coyotes and bears. But I never thought I would have to worry about something like this,” she said.

Area sightings

According to the DNR’s website, cougar sightings have been confirmed this year in a number of counties in Wisconsin, including Iowa County, Monroe County, Trempealeau County, Buffalo County and Forest County.

Jess Carstens, a wildlife biologist with the DNR based out of Menomonie, said cougars rarely stay in an area for more than a day or two and that they travel between five and seven miles per day.

In addition to cougars, Wisconsin has bobcats and the Canada lynx.

When asked if it was possible that a bobcat had attacked Dusek’s and Frogner’s horses, Carstens said it was highly doubtful since bobcats only weigh about 35 or 40 pounds.

Carstens also said it seemed strange that a cougar would attack a horse, since the adult male cougar weighs around 150 pounds, and horses are often a thousand pounds or more.

Frogner said from the pattern of wounds on one of her horses, it was likely the horse had used its front feet to strike at the cougar and to knock it on the ground.

To defend themselves, horses will bite, use their front feet to strike out and will kick with their hind feet.

Frogner says she hopes her horse “did some damage” to the cougar and that it learned horses are not easy prey.

Carstens said that while cougars generally only stay in an area for a day or two, a cougar might stay longer if it found a good food source, such as an abundant deer herd.

Horses and deer have similar herd behaviors and warning snorts, and in the summer and fall, would often consume the same kind of food, such as alfalfa and grass, so they would probably have a similar body odor.

It is possible that a cougar may have wondered if Dusek’s and Frogner’s horses were large deer?

New territory

According to the DNR website, wild cougars disappeared from Wisconsin by about 1910, but reports began to surface again in the 1940s. Since 1991, the DNR has standardized a system of collecting reports on cougars and other rare mammals.

DNR officials say there is no evidence that cougars are breeding in Wisconsin. Six male cougars have been confirmed in the state since 2008, and biologists believe these are males from a breeding population in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Any cougars moving through this area “are males looking for new territory,” Carstens said.

And since there are no female cougars in Wisconsin, the males are unlikely to stay in any one area, he said.

Like all cats, Carstens noted, cougars sleep and rest during the day and hunt and move to new territory at night.

According to the DNR’s website, an adult male cougar can weigh between 116 pounds and 160 pounds; a female can weigh between 75 pounds and 110 pounds.

Cougars are between 80 to 95 inches long (male) and 72 to 80 inches long (female) with a tale that is 28 to 38 inches long and ropelike with a black tip. They are between 27 and 31 inches tall at the shoulder.

Cougars are a tawny color that can range from reddish to yellow to gray, and the back of the ears are solid black or gray.

People often mistake bobcats for cougars, but bobcats are smaller and have a short “bobbed” tail and white spots on the back of the ears, the DNR’s website notes.

In mud or snow, the tracks of a cougar are between 2.7 and four inches in length and between 2.8 and four and a half inches wide. They are round and are often wider than they are long. As with all cats, both wild and domestic, no claws are visible in the tracks.

If you encounter a cougar, the DNR’s website says you should not turn and run away. (Anyone who has watched a domestic cat hunt a mouse or another small creature knows that running away elicits an instinctive chase response in the cat.)

Instead of running away, raise your arms, and if you are wearing a coat, unzip or unbutton it to make yourself look bigger. Wave your arms and yell while facing the cougar.

Carstens said the DNR appreciates and welcomes information on wildlife sightings.

If anyone captures pictures of a cougar on a trail camera or finds tracks or what looks like it might have been a kill site, contact Carstens at 715-232-1519.

For more information about cougars or to report a sighting of a cougar, you can also visit the DNR’s website at www.dnr.wi.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/cougar.html.