Lock up your livestock -- a cougar is on the prowl in Finley.
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife officers were called to a home on Bowles Road early Thursday for a report of a cougar that had been chased up a tree by the homeowner's dogs.
Wildlife officer Brian Fulton said as officers arrived, the cougar leapt out of the tree and ran away.
Game officers tried to track the big cat with hounds, but lost the scent and abandoned the search.
"At this point, it's kind of like a needle in a haystack," Fulton told the Herald.
This isn't the first cougar sighting in the area in recent weeks. In fact, Fulton said Fish & Wildlife officials learned Sunday that five or six goats have been killed in a pasture off Highway 397 in the last month.
A cougar also was spotted near Hover Park on Wednesday, Fulton said.
Cougar sightings are infrequent in the Tri-Cities, but not unusual. Fish & Wildlife officials killed a cougar in a residential neighborhood in Kennewick earlier this year when it was spotted in a tree on West Third Place.
That cougar was 4 feet long and weighed about 120 pounds. In that case, wildlife officers explained that the animal had to be killed because it would have taken 15 to 20 minutes for a tranquilizer to sedate it, and they were unwilling to put people at risk.
Fulton said Thursday that the large cats live in the Horse Heaven Hills and on Rattlesnake Mountain, but mostly stay away from people.
"The cougars we have coming in typically are younger cats trying to find a territory to live in," he said.
And when they make a habit of preying on livestock, Fish & Wildlife has little choice but to euthanize the animal when caught, he said.
"It's preying on stuff it doesn't normally prey on," Fulton said. "It's not something we want to turn loose in another spot or it could attack someone else's livestock."
Fulton advised that people in the area be cautious between sunset and sunrise when cougars tend to be active, and to keep small animals such as dogs and cats indoors if possible, and make sure livestock are in a secure enclosure.
"Be aware that it's out there," he advised Finley residents. "If someone does see it -- physically see it -- I'd encourage them to either call the Washington State Patrol or 911 so it can get reported to us."
Fish & Wildlife's "Living with wildlife" fact sheet on cougars offers these recommendations for people coming face-to-face with one:
-- Stop, pick up small children immediately and don't run. Running may trigger an attack.
-- Face the animal and talk to it firmly while slowly backing away. Leave the cougar an escape route.
-- Try to appear larger than the cougar by stepping up onto a rock or stump if possible, or holding a jacket open to appear bigger in size.
-- Don't take your eyes off a cougar, turn your back, crouch or try to hide.
-- Never approach a cougar and never offer it food.
-- If the cat shows signs of aggression, shout, wave your arms and throw anything available to indicate to the cougar that you are not prey.
For more information, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org