In December of 1988 I moved to San Angelo TX for a new job. I was married to Jana at the time (yes a woman – that’s for another story). We moved into a house in a very nice but old neighborhood. The house was built in 1924. It had a huge wrap around porch and was on a corner lot. The neighbors across the street (facing the side of our house), had a small house behind them. This house was probably no bigger than 1000 square feet, if even that much. It was very tiny. The front of their house looked into our carport and back yard.
The day Jana and I were moving in (it was just the two of us), we were in front of the house unloading the U-Haul. A guy came up onto the porch from around the side of the house with a full grown cougar on a leash. He lived in the tiny house across the street with his wife (girlfriend?). We were very shocked, but he seemed friendly enough and after some convincing, introduced us to the cougar. I remember him telling us that the animal had been de-clawed, but that it could still break our neck with just a swing of its paw. How endearing… This animal was absolutely amazing and terrifying all at once. It was very docile, but I knew it was still a wild animal, and I treated it as such. The cougar put its front paws on one of the columns and “stood up” and stretched. This thing was as tall as I was. Pretty scary, but we remained calm. I remembered somewhere from my past to not let animals smell fear, so I tried to act very relaxed, like it was no big deal. Plus, it was so amazing. You don’t get to see an animal like that up close, much less pet it, very often.
After the guy left, we talked about it, but as with everything, you tend to forget about such things. That is until a few weeks later. Once or twice, usually in the middle of a weekend day, the cougar would hit their screen door and charge out, escaping from the tiny house. We would see the guy come outside, catch the cougar, and then beat it furiously with a belt and his fists, which was shocking and unbelievable on so many levels.
In those days, I wasn’t even aware of The Humane Society or the ASPCA. So, we would complain to each other about it in our home, but other than that we really did nothing. I want to clarify that these people were not the cream of the crop. On many occasions, he would come home with friends after a day of trapping rattlesnakes and then they would let them go on the sidewalk in front of their house and screw around with them. Of course, there was always alcohol involved, and obviously not much in the smarts department. There were other antics, but it’s probably better left to your imagination.
A week or so later, Jana and I were leaving around 9pm to go dancing. We were a fantastic dance team… As we were getting in the car, I took notice that 3 young teens were walking down the street, and I would have to watch for them when backing out. Just as I put the car in gear, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw them jump, yelp and run the other way. Weird… When I looked in my side view mirror I saw just the tip of a very large tail move thru it. Guess who? We got out of the car and saw the cougar trotting down the street (not after the kids, but the other direction).
I ran across the street to tell the owners. They weren’t home – BIG SURPRISE! After a few moments of, “Holy Crap, what do we do…”, Jana and I agreed that we couldn’t leave a cougar roaming the neighborhood. We had to act fast and I figured that since we had been around it, and knew that it was “tame”, we would go check it out. We drove down the street and found him 3 or 4 blocks away crouching behind a bush on the corner of the intersection. It was making this terrible mewling sound. Not a growl or roar, but more like you would imagine a baby animal would make. So, I get out of the car, walk right up to it, take it by the collar and put it in our back seat. It was completely cooperative and on very good behavior. (I know – Most people at this point ask me – WHAT?! Were you insane?)
We go back to our house and we put the dogs inside the house. In the back yard is a building that was a separate garage MANY years ago, but has now become a storage building. We put the cougar in there and left it some water. It was spring time, so weather wasn’t an issue. We left a note on the door of the cougar owner’s house, telling them where it was.
When we got home at 2am-ish we found a note on our door saying that they had taken the cougar and that they owed us one. I would just as soon not collect on that one…
The next day is Saturday, and we’re both home. I remember being in the kitchen which is near the carport and hearing a mewling sound. I don’t remember where Jana was. After about 10 minutes, I realized that it was the cougar. I stepped outside and found him with his nose in the crack of the gate to the back fence. He was VERY interested in our dogs and they were NOT happy. So, this time I brought the cougar into the back bedroom and shut the door. Then I went over to the neighbors and I honestly don’t remember if they were home, or if there was another note. But, it’s not that important. At some point, they came and got the big cat. He told me that the cat was very smart and had figured out how to flip the latches on their windows and how to push up on the window sash to escape. (I was thinking; I bet he couldn’t figure out how to get a nail of that sash; But as we know by now, the cat was the smartest one in the house…).
Sometime later (days or a couple of weeks – I don’t remember), it was the middle of a weekend afternoon and I was in the back bathroom. The back wall and window of that bathroom face into the carport. I was busy in there. Okay, truth is I was sitting on the john. I heard what sounded like a gunshot. I finished as quickly as I could and ran outside to see what had happened. The strange thing was that everything seemed perfectly normal. Not a soul on the street, regular sounds of birds and city noise. I walked around the house for about 10 minutes and chalked it up to a car or something else. If it was a gunshot, I would expect sirens.
Well the next morning I was standing on the porch on the front of our house waiting for my carpool to pick me up. Our neighbor directly next door was outside also. He said, “Did you hear about what happened with the cougar?” I told him no, and he said that the cougar had escaped once again and had gone down the alley. It climbed some man’s fence and mauled his dog. The man saw the cougar. He got a gun, then shot and killed it.
So, I did hear a gunshot. I’m still not sure why I never heard any sirens or other commotion.
It’s so sad, but a completely true story. The good thing is that animal control people were at his house for the next several weeks. Then he left to join the army. I don’t know if he was required to or if it was some type of bargain. Either way, I think he did get some type of reprimand, but I’m sure it wasn’t enough…