Cougar rhetoric: fear-mongering, again

Erik Wallbank provided us with a superb example of manipulative rhetoric. Fact: cougars are seen occasionally within and near the town limits of Ashland. They are probably prowling around looking for deer to eat. From this, Mr. Wallbank condemns both the existence of town-living deer and the compassionate souls (guilty as charged) who seek a solution that is both workable and respects the fact that this is a small town embedded in a wilderness environment.

As previously explained, in detail and by experts, we cannot shoot all the deer and expect to live in a deer-free town. The deer currently living happily in the surrounding watershed will simply move into the empty eco-niche. No, no and no. We all have to put our big-kid undies on and fence our most vulnerable plants and plant the lavender and rosemary, etc., that our local herbivores don’t fancy.

And the cougars? Our estimable chief of police has said that any cougar menacing human beings in daytime will be scared off or shot by his officers, at his express command. Fair and sensible.

Mr. Wallbank deplores the fact that he can no longer declare war on predators and hunt them with professional hunting dog packs. I’ve seen hunting dogs in action; they are terrifying, large, and you’d better pray you’re not anywhere near them with a child or a pet dog. Whereas Zoology 101 would suggest that reducing the deer numbers is what our cats are doing their darnest, every few nights, to accomplish.

The clever rhetorical device was starting with the few cougars seen eating deer or looking for deer, and segueing through the article to deer attacking humans and ending with cougars going after our children. If the cougars leaping on you personally didn’t scare you, there’s savaging your poor little puppy and reaching into your kids’ bedrooms to kill them as they sleep. This transition is straight out of the fear-mongering playbook, with verbal shifts that get you from reality to your deepest fear.

You might be forgiven if you miss what he told us in the first paragraph: He is out walking his dog alone, in a deserted, dark alleyway at midnight. Let’s parse that. You don’t need to walk your dog at midnight. If you have a canine with a weak bladder, give him wee pads in his kennel and get your healthy sleep. Or “walk” 10 feet from your front door. No one should be walking around alone at midnight. I’m a woman, and I don’t wander in the wee, small hours, because I have been a member of a prey subspecies since the day I was born. Perhaps the gents need a gentle reminder that they can become statistics, too. A dark alley? And you’re worried about the rare cougar? What about two-legged dangers, which are much more prevalent?

And the dangers from cougars, period? A woman was killed recently, yes. So was the poor cougar. I say poor cougar, because this woman was hiking alone in a very remote area, after being repeatedly asked not to by responsible park rangers (and friends). She stubbornly refuses, for years, to follow normal safety precautions — like not walking your dog at midnight in an alley with lots of ambush potential for human predators, wouldn’t you say? — and dies. Does that mean that every citizen walking down Main Street in broad daylight is going to be pounced on? Of course not.

Let’s focus on sober, rational thinking, and workable solutions to situations that really are problems. I’m surrounded by neighbors with chickens, goats, donkeys and other potential morsels. All that gets eaten are deer. Nobody is out walking their dogs at midnight.

Victoria Leo lives in Ashland.

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