What Sara Keenan saw early Monday morning would have frightened anyone.
As she was opening the barn doors at her Carney Lake Road property on the Key Peninsula, a cougar watched her from behind the manure pile.
“Startled,” she said. “Didn’t expect it. Obviously.”
She reported the sighting to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, just as soon as she had caught her breath. Keenan’s was one of a handful of calls this year that wildlife enforcement officer Jeff Summit said he was “very sure was a cougar sighting.”
There have been many reported cougar sightings so far this year, Summit said, but only seven have been deemed credible. He said he usually asks callers about the lighting, time of day and a description of the animal to determine whether to investigate further.
“When the cat saw me it did stop,” Keenan said. “It did not charge me, but I also didn’t wait to see much of its reaction and opted to just go back into the barn and shut the door.”
Like most other Sunday night, Keenan was bringing her horses back into the barn just after midnight.
“My horses were (going) nuts,” she said, and she had to settle all four of them down.
After medicating a sick hen, she said, “I shut off the lights, opened the big front doors to my barn just in time to see the cat.”
Keenan is no stranger to wildlife, she said. She has lived near Carney Lake with her horses, dogs and chickens for almost 9 years. This was not her first time to see a large cat at her property.
“But never this brazen,” she said.
What Keenan reported lit up social media networks on the Key Peninsula.
“Bears and cougars (cougars especially) are excellent at stealth, and most people are near one without ever even knowing it. They usually stay quiet and avoid interaction with people,” Phillip Denton wrote on Facebook earlier this week.
Others offered advice on how to coexist with the wild cats.
“Keep any food source like livestock locked up at night. Cougars tend to be nocturnal. You may be scared and startled but you have to protect your livestock… You truly are living in their domain,” wrote Jenny Detmering.
Many others shared their own encounters, real or mistaken.
According to Fish and Wildlife biologist Michele Tirhi, roughly 80 percent of reported sightings end up being of something else.
This doesn’t mean that there are no cougars on the Key Peninsula, Tirhi said.
“But it is very rare to see one,” Summit said.
In the 8 years Summit has worked the Gig Harbor, Key and Kitsap peninsulas, he said, “I have never seen (a cougar).”
Having said that, it is “not outside the norm” for cougars to roam the area, he quickly added.
“Cougars have a huge, huge home range,” he said, roughly 150 square miles.
And they move quickly.
“They are constantly poking around. They are moving trying to stay alive,” he said. “They are looking for their next meal.”
A photograph of one was captured by a trail camera a Gig Harbor man had set up on his property in the Rosedale neighborhood, Summit said. Barely 8 hours after the snapshot was taken, he said the cougar was spotted six miles away.
“They are not out looking for people,” he said, trying to assuage people’s fear of the large cats. “Their primary prey are deer.”
If a domestic livestock is killed, “we’ll come out,” he said. Even then, “there is not a whole lot you can do.
“We can’t just go out and get a prime rib” and set a trap, he said. “It doesn’t work like that with cougars.”