Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ranch Cats

The ranch house. Warm. Comfortable. A little too welcoming.

It was night.
And my dog, Cheetah, was barking.
Something she did a lot. At night.
We had tried to train her out of it, but had never quite succeeded.
It was annoying.
Finally, I got up to see what could be bothering her.
Coyotes howling in the foothills nearby.
A cow bawling.
Water running in the canal.
Dumb dog.
I should explain, here, that the Stringam ranch house had a large carport.
It had two walls, one on the west, formed by a wall of the house and one on the north. The south and east sides were open.
The carport joined the overhang over the front door in a narrow strip right next to the house.
It was possible to walk from a vehicle into the house without seeing the sky, but it was tricky and involved negotiating car hoods and garden paraphernalia (good word).
Now, normally, when one exited the house, one would walk straight to the front gate and avoid the carport entirely.
Something I usually did.
Tonight I . . . didn't.
I don't know why.
I glanced out the door into the inky blackness.
There is nothing quite so dark as as a night on the prairies, with no moon.
And the mercury vapour light in the yard not quite reaching the house.
My dog was over in that yard, at the business end of the carport.
Still barking.
Stupid dog.
I sighed and pushed the screen door open.
I hesitated.
Then did something I had never done before.
I turned and made my way, carefully, to the carport, avoiding shovels and other garden tools.
Then I walked between the cars towards my frantic dog.
I paused at the edge of the carport.
Cheetah was just feet away and her barking, if it could be believed, had increased.
I started forward again, but just as I lifted my foot, a sound shattered the darkness.
And I do mean shattered.
It was the scream of a cougar.
Now, I'm sure I don't have to tell you what the sound of a cougar does to one when you hear it ringing across the prairie.
It's . . . scary.
This scream was five feet away.
Above me.
At the very edge of the carport roof.
See? Shattered.
I froze instantly.
Then started to back up, one step at a time.
Finally, I turned and sprinted towards the front door, careful to keep roof between me and our unwanted visitor and heedless of whatever might be in my path.
I called my dog and she came running.
Still barking.
The two of us ducked inside, and I banged the heavy outer door shut and locked it.
Now, I should point out that the main door of the ranch house was never closed, let alone locked.
Except when I was out on my first date with my husby and my Dad didn't want me back.
But that is another story.
Moving on . . .
Mom's voice, “What's the matter, dear?”
I was staring out the window.
Cheetah was now standing behind me.
She continued to bark.
“We have a visitor, Mom!” I said over the noise.
“Oh?” Mom appeared in the kitchen doorway.
“Yeah. A cougar is sitting on the carport roof.”
“Are you sure?”
I turned to look at her, thinking about the horrendous (Ooo, great word!) sound. “Fairly sure.”
“Oh, dear!” she disappeared.
I stayed by the window, but could see nothing in the blackness.
My dad appeared. Calm as always.
“Well it was on the carport a few minutes ago.”
“It'll leave.”
I stared at him.
“You're not going to go out after it?”
“Not while it's on the roof.”
Good point.
Dad got a flashlight and pointed it out the window towards the carport roof.
I cautiously opened the door.
Cheetah shot through the opening and into the night.
Her barking moved slowly away from the ranch buildings and towards the foothills.
Our visitor was obviously headed home.
The first and only time I can remember a living creature receiving a less-than-exemplary welcome at the ranch.
Or being offered a warm meal.
Oh. Wait.
I guess that's a good thing.


  1. Scary!!! I'm glad it left. dog! :)

  2. Man, not good when they start coming to the house for dinner.

  3. We had a friendly wolf cross here belonging to someone. We befriended it and it was the best house guest till we found the owners but we did not tell the SPCA it was a wolf cause they would have taken it away.
    But Cougar?? No way that sends shudders up my spine.
    I can't even imagine a friendly wild cougar. lol
    We have more and more cases of cougar and bear coming much too close to homes these days.

  4. I was expecting you to say there was a skunk out there. I wasn't expecting a cougar! Yikes! Luckily, we haven't ever had that one. The closest we've come to that is that one Sunday about 8 or 9 years ago we had just gotten home from church and I was at the kitchen window getting ready to fix dinner. I looked out the window just in time to see a large male bobcat strolling through my yard by the fence - about 10 yards from my kitchen window. It was even in the middle of the day!

    I always hate going out in the yard at night. I never know what is out there! I hope I never have any close calls as close as this one you had!

  5. Oh, very scary. The only story I have that comes close is when a water mocassin (very poisonous snake) was curled up between the garage wall and the car and our dd, who was very little at the time, ran right between the two before I could scream. She made it without the snake moving, thank goodness. He was a dead snake minutes later...

  6. THe sound of a screaming cougar is never forgotten.

    Good boy (dog)!

    And smart dad!


  7. Oh my stars! I think I would have a heart attack!


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