2 cougar cubs killed; Prineville neighbors on alert

Sheriff defends killing of pair due to safety risk

Neighbors in SE Prineville on cougar alert

PRINEVILLE, Ore. - Not one, but two cougar cubs -- apparently malnourished and hunting for food -- were roaming a southeast Prineville neighborhood on Sunday.

Because of the danger in a residential neighborhood, authorities decided they had to shoot and kill them.

Crook County sheriff's deputies asked the kids playing outdoors in the Crystal Springs neighborhood to go inside their homes, and that's when several neighbors learned about the cougars in their neighborhood.

They said they 6- to 8-month old cats were 400 yards away from children playing at a playground.

"I love (the neighborhood), because we have a beautiful view," said resident Tara Smith. "Yeah, we get all the deer, we get everything that comes down here, wouldn't trade it for anything."

Smith has lived in the neighborhood for six years and has never seen a cougar in her backyard -- but that changed on Sunday afternoon.

"I think all of Central Oregon knows that it's cougar country," Smith said. "You just never think it would be really your backyard."

The male and female cougars were up against a building in one of the neighbor's backyards.

Deputies said they shot them after attempting various methods to move them out of the residential area.

"I don't want us to be the first county that has had someone who is attacked by a cougar," Sheriff Jim Hensley said.

Hensley, who was on scene, said one of the cougars looked at the deputies constantly, and it appeared wasn't afraid of anything.

"I far rather take the heat over that than I would have a child injured, not worth the gamble," Hensley said.

Not taking any chances, Smith kept her kids inside.  

"We've had our little lectures," Smith said. "And of course, mine are in our house. But it's spring break, everybody wants to be outside. But the fear is definitely in the parents' minds."

"There were some concerns (from residents) that 'no one came to our door and warned us there', Henlsey said. "The bottom line is, the cats were under observation and we had them covered the whole time."

Smith says she's glad the sheriff's deputies did what they had to do.

"My children are safe -- the rest of the neighborhood children are safe," Smith said. "So I'm quite happy with that."

Parents in the area told NewsChannel 21 that they are still on alert Monday because these were cubs, meaning there is likely a mother out there running out and about.

That's why officials warned parents in the area it's important to watch your kids and keep pets inside.

Deputies were called out just after 3 p.m.Sunday  on a reported cougar sighting in the area of SE Slayton Court and Stearns Road in the Crystal Springs subdivision, said Deputy Mitch Madden.

The caller told 911 he had seen a cougar in his backyard, Madden said. Authorities found two cougars in the backyard of another home, north of the one they were called to, he said.

Prineville police, Oregon State Police and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials also were called to the scene, a heavily populated residential area, Madden said. While they were there, children were heard outside, playing in the area.

"It was then determined that the cougars posed a severe public safety hazard," Madden said in a news release. "Therefore, the cougars were put down."

An ODFW biologist later determined the cougars "were malnourished and possibly in the area searching for a food source," possibly cats or kittens, said ODFW wildlife biologist Jason Journey.

"Even though cougars are majestic animals, they are very dangerous to humans, especially children," Madden said. "If you spot a cougar in a populated residential area, keep yourself, children and pets indoors and contact law enforcement immediately."

Resident Dan Smith told NewsChannel 21 children out playing in the subdivision were told to go inside.

Smith and fellow neighbor Clarissa Leary said they understood a mother and two cubs were living at the end of the subdivision, above the mailbox station. Leary said the mother cougar and possibly another cub were still nearby.

But Madden said, "The two were the only ones present and the mother was not witnessed."

An automated emergency phone system notification was requested, to alert area residents of the cougar sighting, Madden said, adding that only one call was received in regards to the cougar.

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