PORT McNEILL—Cade Henderson’s vacation to the North Island was to be an opportunity to explore, enjoy the surroundings and take home some memories.
The Calgary native certainly returned home with a story to tell after using an axe to fight off a cougar to protect his dog, Indie.
Henderson explained that his girlfriend’s parents had recently purchased an undeveloped lot in Port McNeill, and the couple, along with their dog and four friends, had made the trip to the North Island to camp out on the Mine Road property and explore the area.
“The second day we were there we were talking to some locals and we were warned that a big cougar had been seen in the neighbourhood,” he recalled. “We were sort of joking about it, saying how we’d love to see one.”
Later that week, the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 5, Henderson was lying awake in his tent listening to Indie growl outside. “I thought there may be a deer around,” said Henderson. “Then the growl went up.”
Henderson opened the tent flap to see Indie charge something in the tree line and rushed out with a flashlight to see his dog and a cougar locked on to one another.
“I shone the flashlight and saw the cougar; with all the commotion and yelling, I was hoping my voice would scare it off.”
Henderson grabbed an axe and approached the cougar, which he estimates was a healthy 140lb or more.
“I was just terrified,” he said. “(Indie) was below, the cougar had my dog by the top of the neck.
“I figured my dog was down so I approached, yelling, hoping to scare (the cougar ) off.”
When he got into axe range Henderson took a swing at the big cat with the hammer side of the maul — concerned about hitting his own dog should he use the blade edge — and missed, dropping the axe.
“I thought it would turn on me then. I think the only thing that stopped him was that my dog was locked onto his neck.”
Henderson quickly retrieved the axe and made good on his second swing. “I smoked him behind the head with the blunt side. It felt like hitting a dense piece of wood. It spun round and took one bound into the woods.”
Indie, meanwhile, ran the opposite direction, so the couple jumped in their car and went after him. Retrieving the 70-pound Catahoula leopard, they found him bleeding heavily from a lacerated neck, and rushed to Port McNeill Hospital looking for gauze and directions to a vet.
“They were so good there, they got us gauze, got us in touch with a vet.”
They hurried to Port Hardy Veterinary Hospital where Indie was stabilized, x-rayed and stitched up. Luckily, the injuries he sustained were non-life threatening and vets were able to put him on the road to recovery.
As of two weeks later, Indie was, “Recovering wonderfully. He’s healing up really well, but there’s probably a cougar out there with a splitting headache.”
While the experience naturally shook Henderson — the couple slept in their car for the rest of the trip — it hasn’t put him off the North Island. “It would never stop me from coming back,” he said, “but it made think twice about where I pitch a tent.”
Henderson even had some compassion for the cougar: “It was such a magnificent, powerful creature. It’s one of those things you never expect to happen. Hopefully it learned a lesson, … hopefully it’s okay and it’s not bothering anybody.”
Henderson’s encounter is one of a series of sightings in the town, as he learned from Conservation Officers. Indeed posters around town and a message on the marquee sign at Chilton Arena warn residents to be aware.
The Conservation Officer Service did not return calls for more information. Cougar encounters should be reported to the toll-free Report all Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).
“I’m in awe of what happened, “said Henderson. “The vets were so good — it couldn’t have worked out more luckily.
“It’s definitely given me a new appreciation, and new awareness of our surroundings.”