UCLUELET — Ted Benson was getting ready for bed when his cat walked in, followed closely by a cougar.
“It was weird. There was no sound, no nothing. It was eerily quiet and just all of a sudden, I see my cat squirt in. Next thing you know, all I hear is claws trotting across concrete,” Benson said.
“My cat wasn’t sprinting at super-human top-speed and neither was the cougar. It was like slow motion: ‘Oh, there’s my cat,’ and then, ‘Oh, there’s a big cat trying to eat it.’ ”
The 37-year-old, who works at a lumber yard, had opened the front door of his Norah Street residence to air the place out after having his wood stove burning all evening on Tuesday.
He went to his bedroom about 10:45 p.m. to plug in his cellphone and was walking back to the living room to close the door when he saw his eight-year-old housecat, Mushka, come in from outside.
“Then all of a sudden, I heard claws on the cement floor and saw a big head lunging to eat my cat,” he said. “I thought it was a dog, originally. A cougar would be the last thing I’d expect.”
Benson lunged at the animal to scare it away before discovering he was not dealing with a dog.
“As soon as I realized it was a cougar, I just charged it and got as big as I could and tried to make loud bear sounds to scare it away.”
He said the situation unfolded too fast to think and his survival instincts took over.
“It was just instantaneous. I don’t know what happened. I just automatically tried to charge it and acted big because it’s in my domain — it’s in my house. I’ve got to get this thing out of here,” he said.
“If I had thought about it, I probably would have been attacked because I would have been scared. … It was already in predator mode going after my cat, so if I had backed up, it probably would have pounced.”
After his initial tactics failed to scare off the cougar, Benson upped his intimidation level. “I got louder and tried to act more aggressive. … I was just basically lunging at it. It was one or two feet away at most,” he said.
“You can’t act scared. You’ve got to definitely fight for your life. If you show you’re bigger than them and shout and try to intimidate them, they don’t want to get hurt. … They want the easiest way to get a meal and not have to risk their lives.”
Remembering a tip he had heard from loggers, Benson kept constant eye contact with the animal.
“I looked it straight in the eyes. I remembered loggers saying that they used to have eyes painted on the back of their logger helmets. … A cougar won’t attack if you’re staring at it — I’ve heard many a logger say that.”
The cougar eventually sauntered off, and as it walked away, Benson got a solid look at the animal’s impressive stature.
“He kind of smoothly turned around, not in a hurry, and just trotted out,” Benson said. “As it was walking away, I’m like, ‘Holy, that’s a big cat.’ You could almost feel the physical muscle vibrations from the thing twitching with each step it’s taking as it’s leaving the house.”
Once the cougar was outside, Benson slammed his door shut and saw Lesley Poirier of Ucluelet Taxi honking her taxi’s horn in his driveway.
“Lesley stopping in the cab and honking probably helped a lot because that added a lot more noise and commotion, where the cat was probably like, ‘OK, I’ve got to get out of here. This could be dangerous,’ ” Benson said.
He watched the departing cougar walk toward a second cougar that was sitting in his driveway. He believes the two cougars had been hunting together when they spotted his house cat.
Benson said he had a hard time accepting what had happened until he heard Poirier’s account of watching the cougar walk into his house. “After it happened, I thought, ‘Did that just happen, really, or am I dreaming or something?’ ” Benson asked.
He reported the incident to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. After several hours of searching, a conservation officer and a volunteer dog handler destroyed one of the cougars, a 45-kilogram male juvenile. The cougar is believed to be one of three — likely a family unit — seen repeatedly in the community for months.
Another cougar from the group was destroyed by a conservation officer a month ago.
Benson said he got the impression when he stared into the face of his unwanted house guest that it wasn’t afraid of humans.
“It didn’t freak out and turn around immediately. It was just like, ‘Meh, all right, I’m out of here,’ and just trotted off. It wasn’t in a hurry, by any means.”
Benson said he probably won’t be leaving his front door open anymore.