What’s That Smell? The Mountain Lion Under Our House

Robert Guinn and his family had quite a shock when they recently discovered a dead mountain lion beneath their Whitmore home’s deck. Guinn answered some questions this week about his find.

Doni: Were these photos taken from your home?

Robert: Yes, the photos were taken from our home in Whitmore.

Doni: Who first found the mountain lion, and when?

Robert: I’m embarrassed to say that the mountain lion was literally right under our noses for about a week before we noticed. We have a south-facing deck that is about 12 feet off the ground that overlooks Cow Creek in Whitmore. I’d been on that deck daily, leaning up against the railing, enjoying the view with my morning coffee or a nice pinot in the evenings. I’d had no cause to look straight down.

I had been smelling a dead animal, a fairly common thing around here, and had thought to myself several times that I would need to take a walk around the property to see where it was coming from. The smell was subtle at first, like it might be a small animal like a squirrel, and then it got stronger, so I thought maybe it was a fox or raccoon, and then it started to get really strong. I stood on my deck, looking around in the distance, thinking somewhere out there, a deer is really starting to stink.

Doni: Can you describe the reaction when the source of the smell was finally located?

Robert: We had guests over, and we ate lunch on the deck, and after lunch we were enjoying the view and one of them looked down over the railing and said, “Hey, I think you have a dead chicken down there, no wait HOLY S—, THERE IS A F— MOUNTAIN LION UNDER YOUR DECK!”

Hard to imagine, really. It was less than 10 feet from the house, laying on its side up against one of the deck supports. I looked at it for several seconds before it would compute. It’s a big one. Everybody who has come by to see it has stopped in their tracks as soon as it comes into their field of view. I think something primeval in our brains triggers when you see something like this. It trips the circuit breakers. Intellectually, you know it’s dead, but then there is another part of you that is yelling at your legs to run. It takes a second for the frontal lobe to overrule the amygdala. To be honest, even being near the corpse was unnerving. You had to keep telling yourself that it wasn’t going to wake up take you to the cleaners.

Doni: Great description. Truly. Have you ever seen this mountain lion before, or any evidence of it?

Robert: I suppose in hindsight, the missing chickens might be evidence of its presence. I think a lion is a highly evolved and solitary animal and knows how to avoid detection. I’ve heard that if you see a mountain lion it’s because it wants to be seen.

In the past five years we’ve seen one while we were driving home at dusk near Whitmore Road, and we’ve seen one strolling in broad daylight across my parents’ property – they also live in Whitmore. We’ve also seen tracks on our property before.

Doni: Did you call the Department of Fish and Game or any other agencies?

Robert: Yes. I called the DFG Northern California office. Someone called me back and interviewed me about the lion. I explained that the body was decomposing and was full of maggots.

Doni: And what was their reaction?

Robert:  They said they’d call me back later. When they called the second time, they told me that they believed, based on what I’d told them, that the lion was very old and may have just expired from natural causes. While it wasn’t mentioned during the phone call, I believe they also felt it would smell awful in the back of their truck. I offered to bury it.

Doni: Very nice gesture on your part.

Do you have any guess about what killed the mountain lion?

Robert: I think it was old and possibly sick and came for the easy access to food. We had an unknown number of chickens go missing in the last few weeks. We think it was snacking on our chickens, which of course means that it must not have heeded its mother’s warnings about not eating the bones.

Doni: You’re cracking me up here.

OK, so I’m looking at your photos, and it looks like you used a backhoe or something to lift the animal and bury it?

Robert: Yes. My father and I dragged the mountain lion into the front loader on my tractor. I drove it to another part of the property downwind from my house and waited for DFG to call me back. Once it was established that they did not want to come pick up the corpse, I dug a hole with the backhoe … and buried the body.

Doni: In another photo, there’s a perspective shot of the lion’s paw next to a man’s boot. Whose foot is that, and what size shoe does he wear?

Robert: That is a size 12 shoe and it belongs to my brother-in-law. The paws were about the size of an adult’s open hand.

Doni: Are mountain lions common where you live in Whitmore?

Robert: I don’t know about common, but they are clearly here. I’m not sure if I have PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] or what but I think one is watching right now.

Doni: Regarding the animal’s size (obviously, huge) did anyone actually measure the cat, like from nose to tail, or circumference? What about measuring the incisors? Did anyone weigh it? That last one may be a stupid question, because I can’t imagine how you’d do that, but I had to ask.

Robert: No measurements. I dragged it a few feet to get it into the front loader and can confirm that it was heavy. I would guess 150 pounds.

Doni: Does this change the way you think of your “typical” mountain lion?

Robert: Yes. Having a huge mountain lion a few feet from my house changed my perspective. I have to work really late at night sometimes, or start really early because I have employees overseas and customers in lots of different time zones. I work in an office on my property and walk between the house and the office many times a day and many times each night.

The mountain lion was just a few feet away from where I walk between home and office. I wonder how many times she stood there and watched me and pondered how many calories I must be and what my hat tastes like. My stepdaughter goes out every night to collect eggs from our 100 or so chickens. My wife goes out to feed our horses, donkey, sheep and goats in the evening — sometimes in complete darkness. It’s probably 100 yards out to the horse barn. We are all thinking a lot about the mountain lion. We’ve tried to feed (the animals) a little earlier and not wear our deer costumes outside at night.

Doni: Can you tell a little about yourself?

Robert: I moved to Whitmore from San Francisco six years ago. My wife is an Internet bride I ordered from Dunsmuir. I’m a software engineer. We try to raise and grow our own food organically like refined hippies, but all our animals become pets and our vegetables get eaten by bugs.

Here’s a photo of my wife going out to feed the horses with her new perspective.

Doni: Her new perspective makes complete sense to me.  Anything else you’d like us to know about this?

Robert: I feel lucky that this mountain lion chose to retire here. I imagine, early in the morning, we were both enjoying the same view. She was just under the deck, while I was on it.

Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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