I don't remember the exact year, but it was before my quarter horse Doll aged to the point I didn't feel good about riding her, probably 18 years ago. I fed our two horses, and on the way back to the house I heard what sounded like tires squealing on the highway or a baby crying. But no car came. The horses were antsy all day.
That night I opened the front door to check on them. Thanks to a full moon, I saw an animal bigger than a German shepherd run between them. The animal was a dark tan, almost brown, with a tail like a mountain lion's. I yelled for Ron. He grabbed his shotgun, fired into the air. The lion ran away; the horses ran for another 10-15 minutes before we could calm them. They spent the rest of the night locked safely in their stalls. The next day, our neighbor’s goat was attacked. The vet said it looked like Casper had been attacked by a herd of razor blades or a cat--a BIG cat. We think the neighbor’s dog and our dogs frightened the cougar away. The game warden suggested it was a bobcat. I don't think so. Thankfully, Casper survived. A few days later I moved the horses to the back pasture. While hanging clothes the next morning, I heard Doll and Dundee whinnying. I ran to the pasture and hollered. They galloped up to me. Doll’s head was covered in so much blood that I couldn’t see her eyes. All the blood came from her left ear. When my vet examined Doll, he said he believed that the mountain lion came through our pasture and scared her so much that she jerked her head on barbed wire and ripped her ear. I’m not sure about that. He told me then that he’d seen mountain lions several times on his Bedford County rounds. Unfortunately, he’d never had a camera with him. My daughter called the neighbors, told them to check their goat. Yep, he’d been attacked again. And again, he survived.
When I questioned authorities, they declared there were no mountain lions in Bedford County or Virginia. I didn’t believe them then. I don’t believe them now. During that same period, a man driving on the road near our house slammed on brakes when a cougar leaped across the road in front of him. Another person reported seeing a cougar at an area dumpster. A few months later, I rode Doll up the road to meet a horse-owner friend for a long trail ride. We’d ridden about 15 minutes when her horse and mine balked, refused to continue. We tried to urge them forward. Doll planted her feet and refused. And then I remembered the mountain lion. I sensed that the cat was close. So did the horses. We high-tailed it home. That night it snowed. Early the next morning, my riding buddy called to tell me that her horse and pony were so frightened by something during the night that they ran smack through the board fence. I saw the broken boards and the cuts on her horses. In the snow were large footprints tracking the horses. All this happened when we lived on Highway 24 (now called Wyatts Way) in Bedford County between the Otter River Bridge and Evington. I believe the big cats are still here. Just a couple of years ago my friend Joyce saw a mountain lion standing in a cleared area beside Hendricks Store Road in Moneta. She slowed her car and stared at the cat. He stared back. I also heard that a fisherman saw a cougar crossing the floats (or buoys) in front of Smith Mountain Dam. So why am I telling you this? Because I believe we have mountain lions all over Bedford County, probably Franklin and Pittsylvania counties, too. With the thick forests and rocky terrain that mountain lions prefer, the Smith Mountain Lake area is the perfect habitat for them. I want to PROVE it, I want to KNOW. One of my up-coming novels (my third) will deal with a cougar on Smith Mountain.
So please help me solve this Bedford Cougar Mystery! If you have a mountain lion story, and/or managed to snap a picture, I’d love to hear it. By the way, adult mountain lions (also called puma, cougar, catamount, panther, mountain screamer, painter) weigh between 75 to 160 pounds, are five to nine feet long from tip to tail, and range in color from tawny to silver-gray or reddish.
Labels: Bedford County, cougars, mountain lions, pumas