Raccoons, deer and coyotes. Ask almost anyone about urban wildlife
and they will come up with one of these. However, on one sunny day
last August residents of two northwest Calgary communities were able
to add another animal to the list.
At about 6:30 a.m. a motorist on his daily commute saw a large long-tailed
cat bound across the street in front of his vehicle. He immediately
contacted authorities to report the sighting of what he believed to
be a wayward cougar.
Although several more sightings were reported throughout the morning,
authorities could not locate the elusive feline. Everyone hoped the
cat had escaped to the brush-filled coulees bordering the city. By
early afternoon, that seemed to be the case. As the end of the day
approached, one Arbour Lake resident entered his backyard to discover
the cat had taken temporary refuge under his deck. The surprised Calgarian
contacted Fish and Wildlife to report that a large growling and snarling
cat was hiding under the deck in his backyard. As more information
was gathered from the caller it became apparent that the wayward cougar
had been located. Fortunately, one of Calgary's off-duty conservation
officers was still available and set to work preparing immobilization
equipment. The on-duty officer promptly attended the address given
by the caller. As a number of onlookers were expected, Calgary Police
Service (CPS) members were requested to assist conservation officers.
Upon arrival the first officer found a large crowd gathered in a
backyard adjacent to the cat's location. The cat, difficult to see
at first, had found himself a temporary lair with escape lanes on three
sides, good cover on all four sides and from above. Although he seemed
slightly nervous, he did not appear to be agitated. Presentations of
exposed canines supported by low guttural growls reinforced his intentions
to maintain his stronghold. As onlookers were cleared away the cat
began to calm down.
With the arrival of the second conservation officer and several CPS
units, the area was contained and a plan of action was developed. A
local houndsman and his trusty blue tick supplied additional reinforcement.
We were ready. The plan was a simple one. Police officers were to keep the
public away and the houndsman stood by in case the cat bolted. We had prepared
two darts filled with a fast acting immobilizant.
One side of the deck was flush with the side of the house. From this
vantage point the cat's position graciously provided a clear shot at
his hindquarters. A shooter could get within 3.5 to 4 metres of the
target almost guaranteeing a successful hit.
Unfortunately, there is something about best-laid plans when dealing
with these types of situations. As sure as this plan was a recipe for
success, it was also destined to be complicated by forces known only
to fate and destiny. It seemed a misguided soul decided to take advantage
of a nearby ill-guarded business. The "robbery in progress" call
came in and the resulting shortage of police officers put an instant
hold on our plan. Nearly 30 minutes passed as the attending sergeant
tried, without success, to bring staff in from surrounding districts.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature is not in the habit of waiting. Encroaching
darkness forced us to act. As the remaining officers moved into position
and the houndsman readied, Officer Gerry Filipchuk and I moved into
position next to the deck. I needed to determine the location of the
cat. With Gerry as my backup I was to simply stick my head around the
corner of the house and look under the deck. The plan was to then dart
the cat, move back and wait.
Unfortunately, as large cats seem to be somewhat active at dusk and
dawn, the already setting sun told the cat it was time to wake up and
started moving. As I peered around the corner my eyes seemed to take
their time adjusting to the near black under the deck. The first thing
they focused on was four large white pieces of ivory about one metre
away from my face. In the time it took for one very fast heartbeat
my brain interpreted the situation and decided that at this time flight
would be a better choice than fight.
At this point, Gerry had not seen the cat. As I lunged backward the
cat came forward to the edge of the deck and nearly face to face with
Gerry. The resulting Mexican standoff between Gerry and the cat gave
me the opportunity to grab a tranquilizer gun and move all the way
around the house to a point where I thought I could get a shot. With
the cat staring at Gerry and the statuesque Gerry staring right back,
I was able to eventually get a clean shot at one of the cat's hind
legs. Less than seven minutes later he was asleep and we were able
to remove him from his sanctuary.
Photograph by Gerry Filipchuk
The 100-pound tom was bound, checked over and placed inside a large
canvas hockey bag for ease of handling. After a night spent recovering
from the tranquilizer the cat was driven to a mountainous area, far
away from the possibility of another urban visit. With a few phantom
leaps the misplaced feline was released to a new home with a second
chance at life.
Photograph by Gerry Filipchuk
Paul Lupyczuk is a member of the Alberta Game Warden
Association in Calgary.