MERLIN, Ore. — A woman who was stalked by a cougar while doing yard work at her Merlin-area home says she's only alive today thanks to the heroic efforts of her yellow lab, Hank.
Without Hank, Cheryl Smithey says, she likely would have been mauled by the big cat when it got within a few inches of reaching her.
The Smithey family has had Hank for four years. They say that he's been a chill dog: He doesn't bark much (unless someone's at the door), he loves to play fetch, and he loves to ride on the family's gator. He's your typical yellow lab — loyal and friendly.
"He's goofy," Smithey said. "He's a sweetheart of a dog. He really is."
Smithey never thought of Hank as a protector, he was always more of a buddy. But when someone tried to threaten Hank's family, he proved that he's every inch the protective type.
"The cougar was coming at me full speed," Smithey said. "He made it to about right here when my dog started charging him."
It all happened in the space of a few seconds, and in broad daylight. Smithey caught sight of the cougar coming, and then Hank chased the startled cat up a nearby tree.
"If Hank didn't come when he did, this animal would have been on me," Smithey said. "I'm talking 150 feet to 200 feet away from me . . . That's close. Too close to me."
Smithey can't think about what would happen if Hank hadn't shown up when he did. She doesn't entirely feel safe going around her property anymore — but she knows that with Hank, she'll be fine.
"He didn't hesitate. He ran full speed at this cougar," Smithey said. "He did save me. He did save me."
Smithey says she'll still consider Hank goofy and sweet as ever, but now he's earned the title 'protective' as well.
Cougar sightings and encounters have become increasingly common in even the most populated areas of the Rogue Valley. Medford Police shot and killed a cougar in April after it repeatedly appeared near downtown. Ashland Police have taken to having citizens report and map cougar or bear sightings after an encounter last November where officers fired at a pair of cougars roaming the Southern Oregon University campus.
While instances of cougars mauling people are historically rare in the Pacific Northwest, the 2018 death of a hiker near Mt. Hood is believed to be the first recorded instance of a cougar killing a human in the state's history. Washington state experienced a similar incident mere months prior.
The video below is security footage of two cougars outside of an Ashland home last year.