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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

VERN'S CAT
Vern's Cat

By: Barry L. Hatt

    Since I wrote my cougar story that was published in the October 13 issue of the Telegraph Journal, Weekend Reader I have received many accounts from others who have had their own exciting experience with the cougar. The experiences remain etched in the minds of the people to whom they happened. Vern M. Garnett is such a person. Vern lives in Red Head near Saint John.
   Vern takes us back to November 1975 when he and friends were hunting deer near Hampton, on the Johnson Road. He had been hunting a 10 point buck for several days and had done a great deal of walking, watching and waiting. One day he placed himself in a stand of young, overgrown apple trees. One tree near the center of this stand was larger than the others and served as his base.
   After awhile Vern Had the feeling that he was being watched but thought it might be some hunter after the same buck that he was hunting. After a couple of hours he heard the sound of a cat purring which was strange because it sounded louder than it should have.
   Because it was getting on towards lunch time, he put his rifle down and began to eat his lunch. Not wanting a deer to smell his scent he put out some skunk scent. Above his head he heard a loud sneeze of the sort a cat will make when it smells something distasteful. As Vern recalls; " I slowly raised my head with a curse ready to fly at some poor, unfortunate house cat, and there it was. In the apple tree about 12 feet over my head, relaxing, was what at the time I called a mountain lion. "
   He further adds; " It had been there almost 5 hours and at this point my rifle was at my feet and I was almost to the point of using my pants as an outhouse. This wonderful creature just seemed to float down into the clearing about 12 to 18 feet in front of me, it gave that low throat cat growl of displeasure, turned to face me, gave a snarl and looked me straight in the eyes. At this point I could not have gotten to my rifle before this cat would be on me so I began the Lord's prayer : 'Our Father who art in heaven...' With this vocalization the cat took a backward step then again started towards me. I said in a somewhat loud and shaky voice: ' By all that is holy please do not eat me!'"
   The cat then turned and disappeared into the cover of trees about 30 feet away. Because his strength had left him Vern related; " I sat there for what seemed forever, but it was now starting to get to the point where the sun was dipping and I knew I had to get out of there."
   Vern made it to the car and went to pick up his hunting buddies. When he told what had happened they asked him if they could have some of what he had been drinking. Because it was a weekend he had to wait until Monday to go to Hampton to see the Forest Rangers. They told him that an old fellow in the same area had reported seeing the cat several times but, as with Vern's sighting, took it with a grain of salt.
   Later that day Vern and a good friend, Bill Coffee, went back to where Vern had seen the cougar. They found some very distinct paw prints along with the drag marks of the tail. The next day they convinced the Rangers to go out and have a look. Their comment was that it was probably a dog with malformed feet. Although they took a sample of scat, that Bill had found, nothing was ever heard from them again.
   Over the next two week period Vern saw the cougar several more times. Once was when he and Bill were out hunting birds. The cougar came out on the road in front of them, looked at them and "Gave a nice, gentle but loud purring and faded off into the forest cover, and our memories."
   Vern said it best when he related; " I feel blessed by God to have been given the chance to spend several hours in the company of such a beautiful creature and to be able to walk away from it and talk about it."
   Vern continued: " I am sad to say that Bill Coffee died around Christmas, 1979, but when I saw him in the hospital a few days before he left us all he could talk about was the cougar. To this day I can still hear old Bill saying: ' I wish the Game Wardens were as friendly as that cat of yours.'"
   I want to thank Vern M. Garnett for sharing his story. If we continue to allow unchecked clear cutting and urban sprawl to eat up our forest cover then the cougar sightings will slowly diminish. The noble creature that is still with us will have to move elsewhere. It is not always easy to believe that such a creature lives around us if we have never seen one. But if the Department of Natural Resources and Energy receives numbers enough of our sightings, they will not be so quick to discount them.

Barry Hatt lives in Dumfries. If you have any cougar stories that you would like to share, his e-mail address is blhatt@rogers.com

THE END

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