Residents encounter mountain lion |jon_downes||09/25/03 at 19:11:23|jon_downes|xx|0||Residents encounter mountain lion

By JANEL HARTMAN, T-L Staff Writer and SANDY FITZGERALD, T-L Copy Editor

MOUNTAIN lions are extinct in Ohio, but several St. Clairsville area residents encountered one during the weekend, including a man who shot the large animal which had attacked his dog and lunged at him.According to a report from the Belmont County Sheriff's Office, at about 5:24 p.m. Sunday, Brian Conway, who had been working at a farm on Shepherdstown Road, St. Clairsville, advised that a mountain lion had attacked his dog and lunged at him. Conway reported to the sheriff's office that he had shot and killed the animal, which was left in the woods by the farm. The animal was believed to have been a pet, because it had been declawed.

The shooting came after a weekend in which several people, including two St. Clairsville teen-agers armed with only a camera, came face-to-face with the lion.

Brandon Coe, 16, and his brother, Brian, 17, had heard from their uncle that a mountain lion had been spotted in the area so they rode out on their all-terrain vehicles to see if they could find it and take a picture of it.

When they found the large creature, it was lying down in the grass. Brandon said he and his brother tossed a rock at it to try to get it to stand up and run away.

"I told my brother to stand up on the bike and take its picture," Brandon Coe said. When the flash on the camera went off, the lion stood up.

He said his ATV was coasting backward and the lion was coming at him, so he got off the vehicle.

Brandon said the lion was "standing there staring at me, and I got out my knife." He said the knife was only a small pocketknife that he takes into the woods with him.

After about three minutes - during which the mountain lion was only about 7 feet away - the animal ran away. Brandon said the mountain lion was hissing at him and his brother during the entire incident.

"I don't know what I would have done if it had jumped on me," he said. The boys' grandmother, Opal Donley, said the boys took pictures of the large cat so people would believe they saw it.

"They didn't figure anyone would believe them and that's why they took the pictures," Donley said. "Brandon was afraid to run. There were a number of kids there and my son wanted his wife to get his gun, but she was so scared that she couldn't move."

Donley explained that she and her husband at first thought the boys had seen a bobcat, but it was clear from the pictures that it was a mountain lion.

"We called the sheriff's office and they referred us to the game warden. We're still waiting for him to call us back. Brandon wanted me to call the newspaper so that nobody would get hurt."

Meanwhile, Conway said he first saw the mountain lion on Saturday as he and several other people were traveling to a nearby farm to bale hay. He said he saw the mountain lion in the weeds, and he and his co-workers stopped to look at the animal. Conway said his dog was scared by the large animal and jumped off the four-wheeler he was driving. He said chaos ensued, and his dog was in the mouth of the mountain lion.

"It had the dog in its mouth, and the front legs were hanging out one side of his mouth and the back legs were hanging out of the other side," Conway added. "His whole body was in its mouth. It rolled over on its back, and tried to tear the dog up. It started to run with the dog. It dropped the dog, and then jumped back into the woods."

Conway said he does not know why, but the mountain lion, which was 6 feet long and weighed about 90 pounds, released his dog. He said he went about 400 yards down a trail with his co-workers before they realized the mountain lion was following them.

"We went 400 yards into the trail to kind of evaluate what we saw," Conway said. "I went back down the trail, and it was there. It was following us. I slowly put the dog on the bike and took off."

Conway said he returned to the farm for work on Sunday. However, this time he brought along a shotgun and a pistol in case he again saw the mountain lion. He said although he was more prepared than the previous day, he was still nervous.

"Sunday, I went back out," Conway said. "I had an old single-shot 12 gauge. I had one shell. It was bird shell, and I thought, 'it's better than nothing.' We had to get the hay up before it rained. I left the dog in the camper.

"They told me to see if the lower fields were dry yet," Conway added. "I went over there and told my buddy to come with me. I knew it was there, but I didn't think it would bother us. I was close to the same area where the incident happened Saturday, and I took my gun and walked down there. I was coming back and I could see fresh paw prints. I was nervous. I was getting on my bike and he (friend) said 'here it comes,' and it was barreling."

Conway said the mountain lion jumped out of the woods and landed about an equal distance between himself and his friend. He said the animal then attacked him before he shot it. Conway said one shot did not kill it, and he then had to use his pistol.

"He jumped off the bank and landed between us," Conway said. "We were about 10 feet apart. I said, 'Don't move, I don't want to shoot.'

"I got off, and tried to shoo him away. He turned and came toward me. He kept coming slowly toward me like a house cat approaches a bird. I backed up, and he lunged right at me.

"When I shot, his front paws were off the ground, and his claws were six inches from my barrel," Conway added.

More than one shot was required, and after the incident, Conway called the Belmont County Sheriff's Office, and a deputy arrived at the scene. He said he is still shaken by the situation. Conway said the animal was beautiful, but he did not feel he had any other alternative.

"I couldn't sleep at all night last night," Conway said. "I gave it every opportunity to leave. I didn't want to shoot it. The deputy said it was at the tip of the barrel. I am not proud or happy for doing it. It was a beautiful creature. I had a split second to make that decision. It was hungry, and there was no fear of man at all.

"I was shaking yesterday, and I am shaking right now talking about it," Conway added. "It was like something out of a movie."