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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

A Scream In The Night

IMPORTANT EDITORIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Stories for this blog are limited in length to 750 words. In recent weeks and months, however, many have strayed over that line – way over, in some cases.

So, to save my time and sanity, stories longer than 750 words will no longer be published.

Mission creep has also affected images lately. It is time consuming for me to prepare them for publishing so I am now imposing a limit of two photos per story.

I'm sure you understand. You can see all the rules and suggestions here and they are always available at the How to Submit link in the upper left corner of every page.

By Vicki E. Jones

It was a warm summer night about six years ago. Our flower garden was in full bloom and the fruit trees in our back yard had little apples and little pears that were slowly getting bigger.

The woods behind our property – part of a 21-acre public park and walking-bike trail in the south suburbs of Chicago – had many deer, coyotes, red foxes, beavers, opossums, rabbits and squirrels and they were growing in number each year.

The days were long and it was getting dark out quite late. We let our dogs out in our back yard for one last time right after dusk. Strider, our big English Coonhound mix, could bawl loudly and be heard half a mile away if anything set him off.

Strider and Fianna, our younger dog (a mutt), had been out about fifteen minutes when we opened the back door and called them in.

Fianna promptly came in the house but Strider was near the back fence and hard to see. As I stood there with the back door open, I heard a blood-curdling scream. It was not a human sound, but a sound like that of an animal being attacked that was fighting for its life.

Unlike any sound we had ever heard before, I heard the terrifying screams again and again. Frightened, I called to my husband, who quickly brought our Coonhound in and who also heard the sounds.

Strider had been holding still at the back fence and was not making a sound which we could not explain. We did not know whether he was listening, puzzled by the sound, or didn’t recognize the sound as important or whether the blood-curdling screams had paralyzed him with fear.

None of it made any sense. If an animal had been attacked by a predator, it would have screamed once if it had a chance, but it would have died quickly and would not have continued to emit those screams. There was no animal we could think of that could make that noise and none that would make it repeatedly. We gave up on figuring out what had just happened.

In the morning, while eating breakfast, something suddenly dawned on me. I said to my husband, “I think what we heard last night was a cougar. I will research it on the internet this morning.”

I searched for a matching sound for a long time. After about 45 minutes of no luck in finding a sound file with a cougar sound like the sound we had heard, I suddenly found an exact match: The mating calls of a female cougar in heat.

My husband listened to the sound files and smiled. The blood-curdling screams were those of a female cougar looking for a mate.

In the past, official sources have reported that no cougars – or mountain lions, panthers or pumas, if you prefer those titles - have been in the wild in northern Illinois since 1870. Yet there were 150 credible reports of cougar sightings in Illinois since 1950, according to the Eastern Puma Research Network.

Actually, there have been far more than 150. In the far-north Chicago suburb of Antioch alone, there were 50 reported cougar sightings during the year 2004 alone. There are hundreds of sightings every year in southern-most Illinois on the back roads. Yet officially, wild cougar don’t exist in Illinois.

Several years ago, a cougar that was tagged and had originated in Minnesota showed up in the city of Chicago in the alley in the middle of a residential area. For safety reasons, the Chicago police shot and killed it.

Three years before we heard the screams, a cougar was seen exiting the forest preserve in our neighboring community, Glenwood. Several years earlier, in 2000, a dead cougar was found on some railroad tracks in Randolph County, Illinois. Yet officially, wild cougar do not exist in Illinois.

A cougar can weigh from 100 pounds (females) to 165 pounds (males) or more. Depending on the availability of food, an individual cougar can have a range of 10 to 370 square miles. The average life span in the wild is about 12 years.

While there have been a few attacks on humans over the years, a cougar is a far greater threat to deer – their main source of food - and other wild game and also occasionally a threat to livestock.

Pets, left outside, are not safe when a cougar is in the area and leaving young children unattended is not a good idea if a cougar has been reported. Usually, though, cougar will never be seen by anyone and will avoid getting close to people or their homes.

Still, it was comforting to know that the cougar we heard was not likely to find a mate when she screamed that night. Hopefully she wandered out of the area looking for a mate. She would probably be far more dangerous if she had babies nearby.

There have been no reports of a cougar in our neighborhood or neighboring communities since then that I know of but eventually there will be: With larger and larger deer populations, the cougar – like the coyotes that have shown up here in recent years and keep growing in numbers as the rabbits multiply – are likely to visit our area in the future.

As for me, I hope that if I ever hear that blood-curdling sound again, it will be at a zoo or in a wildlife park that is set up for the public to view cougars safely. One much-too-close encounter was enough.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


My husband was a very brave man and went through a lot of scary experiences in his lifetime. However the one thing that frightened him more than anything was walking home in the country near his Illinois home and hearing a cougar scream behind him. Even then they were saying there were no cougars in Illinois.

That must have been terrifying. He was outside and there was no way to know just where that cougar was! Yes, there are officially no cougar...no matter how many there really are!

Interesting about cougars... At first I was afraid your dog was going to be attacked by a wild animal.

We are so fortunate that he was not, Jackie! Strider was 92 lbs, but that is no match for a cougar. A pair of Plott Hounds, a type of large Coonhound, can often tree a cougar by scaring it up a tree with loud bawling, but the one dog that may be a match is a huge breed called an Anatolian Shepherd. -Vicki

There were two men in our area in central Minnesota that trapped most every animal in the 1930s for about ten years, and growing up, it was unheard of to see wolves, beavers, big cats, whatever. Since returning here, we've heard many reports of bear and mountain lions locally, including one bear last month in our town, walking down the street at night! Our mayor was not one bit shocked. They are returning now that they are not getting trapped out of existence. George Washington wrote in his early writings about traveling with his British troops and a black jag
landing on the head of one of his soldiers. His said the screams were horrible from the victim. Those were really different days. Thanks for sparking discussion.

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