About two weeks ago Leah saw a shaggy dog on Fouche Gap Road. It was gone when I drove down to look, but it soon showed up at our house.
I thought it looked like an Old English Sheepdog, and a friend who used to have one agreed. We contacted a local animal rescue group who said there should be no trouble getting it to the right place to find it a home. All I had to do was get the dog to a veterinary clinic down in town.
I needed to take our dogs for a walk before I could do that. Unfortunately, Shaggy followed us, and when Zeke saw him, he jerked the leash from my hand and chased the dog down Fouche Gap Road. I was able to call Zeke back (Zeke is getting old), but Shaggy trotted away down towards Texas Valley.
Once I got the dogs back home I drove down to see if I could find him (or her). He was at the bottom of the mountain, trotting purposefully into the valley. I gave him a dog biscuit, which he seemed to enjoy, but he showed no interest in coming back with me. So I left him, hoping he would come back or find a rescuer further down in the valley.
Last Wednesday, the dogs and I came upon a woman parked on Fouche Gap Road, trying to get Shaggy up into the back of her car. We talked at a distance dictated by Zeke’s barkful excitement. She was trying to rescue Shaggy. After some conversation and a call to the rescue group, we arranged for her to transport Shaggy to the vet’s office. She drove away, but came back a short time later. In the meantime, she had called a neighbor, who turned out to be the owner. The owner stopped us on a walk a few days later and told me that Shaggy liked to roam, so not to worry about “rescuing” him.
But wait. What does this have to do with a big cat? Well, as the woman who rescued Shaggy and I were talking, another car stopped. After the rescuer left, the driver pulled over and showed me a picture he said a county police officer texted him, saying that he took it on Fouche Gap.
It’s a mountain lion.
Early in July there were several reports of mountain lion sightings in the area around Layfayette, which is a little north of us. Despite the fact that the reports came from what a local newspaper called reliable sources, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNE) remains skeptical. According to the DNR, there have been only three credible lion sightings in Georgia in the last 25 years, all related to the Florida panther. (The “mountain lion” is known in the East by several names, including panther, catamount, puma and painter.) The last sighting was in 2008, by a hunter who illegally shot the cat.
The recent cat reports included some people who claimed to have been awakened by a sound like a woman screaming, which some people think is what a mountain lion sounds like. The DNR says that mountain lions make little noise in the woods and when they do, it’s more like a person whistling or a bird chirping. The DNR conveniently included a link to mountain lion sounds in their statement on the local mountain lion sightings.
The DNR says that most sightings are mistaken identification of things like bobcats, which we definitely have here, or dogs, domestic cats or even bears, which we also have here.
But the picture! It sure looks like Fouche Gap Road. Or does it?
I was thrilled and only a little disturbed by the possibility that we had a mountain lion in the neighborhood, but I was a little skeptical, too. When I looked more carefully at the image, I realized that there were several problems with it. For one, the picture was taken from the driver’s side window of a vehicle that was completely off the downhill side of the road. There are only three (four if you stretch it) places on Fouche Gap Road where you can pull off the road on the uphill side, and this one doesn’t look like any of them. The second problem is that the outside rearview mirror doesn’t look like those on cars the county police use. It could, of course, have been taken in an officer’s personal car (actually, a pickup truck).
When the dogs and I got back home, I called the DNR and asked if they had any reports of mountain lion sightings in the Fouche Gap area. They said no, and wanted me to send them the picture, which I did.
Later when Leah and I went down to Los Portales for our usual Wednesday huevos rancheros, I showed the picture to a county officer who happened to be eating lunch there. He was not familiar with it.
During lunch I got an email from the local DNR game management office. One of their people had been emailed an image that looked very much like the one I had.
So, it was a hoax. Not a big surprise. I’m only slightly disappointed, because I didn’t really expect it to be true. I’m also not surprised that the man who originally showed it to me believed it to be true. Just about everyone ends up believing what they want to believe, so almost no one analyzes things like this critically. That’s what makes these internet hoaxes so effective.
As I emailed back to the DNR, I won’t worry about checking over my shoulder for a mountain lion as I walk the dogs.
However, I will keep an eye out for Bigfoot.