NEW ULM - Sheryl Robinson's beloved horse Mollee had to be put down Thursday night after suffering serious injuries from what is believed to be a cougar attack on Christmas Eve or early Christmas day.
Robinson, who lives a mile out of New Ulm on Highway 68, said she noticed a small injury on Mollee's shoulder a couple of weeks ago. Mollee, an Apaloosa/Palomino mare, was sheltered in an enclosed paddock about 100 yards from Robinson's house with another horse and a pony, Robinson said.
On Christmas Day, Robinson went out to water the horses and found Mollee seriously injured, ripped from her neck down her shoulder and left side.
Sheryl Robinson’s horse Mollee was put down Thursday night after suffering serious injuries from what is believed to be a cougar attack on Christmas Eve or early Christmas day.
"She was really torn up, with pieces of her hide hanging down," Robinson said.
The other two animals in the paddock were not injured.
Robinson treated the wounds, but on Thursday she called a friend to help her. The friend said the injuries were too serious, and that they should call a veterinarian.
"The veterinarian came and said he thought it was a cougar attack. He showed me some claw marks. We had thought it might have been coyotes - there are a lot of them around here," Robinson said.
Veterinarians contacted declined to comment for this story.
Robinson said the veterinarian told her the injuries were severe and had become infected, and recommended euthanizing the horse.
It was a sad blow for Robinson, who had owned Mollee for about six years.
"She was my baby," Robinson said. "She had been a 4-H project for some kids, and my nephew knew I was looking for a horse. I went to look at her and I fell in love with her right away, and she fell in love with me. She was very mellow, very mild-mannered."
"I just thought people in the area should know that there is a cougar somewhere out there," Robinson said.
Robinson called the Department of Natural Resources, which sent a conservation officer out to investigate on Friday morning.
Conservation Officer Thor Nelson said there were some paw prints near the horse paddock that could have been from a cougar or a large dog, but the prints had deteriorated since the attack on late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Any other tracks in the area had been covered by the snow that fell on Wednesday.
Nelson said the horse, after it was put down, was lying in the snow on the side with the damage, which made it difficult to distinguished what kind of wounds they were.
"The veterinarian told (Robinson) he thought they were claw marks, and I don't doubt that. It's just that after several hours in the snow, it wasn't as clear," he said.
Nelson did say he saw puncture wounds and tears in the hide that were consistent with an animal attack.
Robinson said she has family and neighbors who will be keeping watch over her two remaining horses. The DNR told her to keep the area well lit to discourage the animal who attacked her horse from coming back.
Dennis Frederickson, the DNR Regional Manager, said mountain lion (cougar) sightings are rare, but do happen in Minnesota.
"We do not have any breeding populations of mountain lions in the state," he said, "but we do have mountain lions pass through, from North or South Dakota. Most of them come from the Black Hills. Typically they are young males who are expanding their territories, or have been pushed out of their area by an alpha male. They can travel great distances; some travel hundreds of miles east of here."
Nelson said one cougar in a well-documented sighting, in which the animal was recorded in Champlin on a police car's dashboard video camera, was traced by its DNA to Wisconsin, and the animal eventually was struck and killed in Connecticut in June 2011. It had traveled an estimated 1,500 miles from its home range in the Black Hills.
The DNR receives many reports of mountain lion sightings, and often those sightings turn out to be something else, Frederickson said. But there are verified sightings as well. In recent years a mountain lion was shot in Jackson County. That shooting was illegal, and the hunter was fined, Frederickson said.
"It is illegal to shoot a mountain lion, except in the protection of one's personal safety," he said.
According to information on a DNR web site, if someone should encounter a cougar:
Face the cougar directly, raise your arms to make yourself appear larger and speak loudly and firmly. This behavior is in direct conflict with a cougar's tendency to hunt by stalking and attacking from ambush. Do not run, crouch or lay on the ground.
Do not shoot the animal, even if livestock or pets are threatened. Cougars are a protected species and may only be killed by a licensed peace officer or authorized permit holder.
Report the encounter or sighting to a conservation officer or local law enforcement authorities as soon as possible so evidence such as photographs, tracks, hair and scat can be located, identified, confirmed and documented.