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 what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is 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, California.
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36 Responses

  1. Avatar jacki g. says:

    Definitely plenty of them and well-fed this year! Anticipate more encounters…

  2. Avatar CinnamonKern says:

    About four years ago, my family and I were out in that neighborhood driving in circles chasing recycled containers with million-dollar satellites (otherwise known as geocaching!) and saw a mountain lion RIGHT off the edge of the road. My dinosaur brain wanted to knock on the door of every house within reach and yell, "Get your kids and critters inside," because that magnificent creature was nothing but a well-armed appetite, and it looked at us, in our vehicle, like it wanted to starting nibbling at one end and keep on until there was nothing left but the squeak. It reminded me of nothing so much as the day at the Zoo when the lioness really LOOKED at my little girl through the plexiglas barrier and decided that, "Why, yes, THAT one might be edible!" For some reason, I still get shudders thinking about both events.

  3. Avatar Lynn Guinn says:

    I have decided to arm myself when I take my Maltese out to potty at night!

    I also kept feeling that it might get up and growl, "Psych!" (Is that how you spell that?) And eat us all.

  4. Avatar L. Watson says:

    When I first began to read this piece I thought it would be something I'd share with our 9 year old grandchild. She's loves to read articles on wildlife in our area. Then I came on the F-bomb language found in a quotation. So much for that idea.

    So unnecessary, Doni. The article could have been just fine had you left out the language. Shame on you.

  5. Avatar H. Horse says:

    When I first began to read this piece, I thought it would be something I'd share with my daughter. She likes to look at dead animals. Then I came on the H-bomb language found in the quotation. So much for that!

    Much like the comma I'm about to add before your name, so unnecessary, Doni. Now I'm shaking my head at your side to side and making a tsk tsk sound that adds to my feelings of moral superiority. Oh, I wish you could see it. The article could have been just fine had you left the religious incantations out of it. As an atheist I expect secular journalism with a little sprinkle of blasphemy and a dash of abomination. If my daughter were to see a word like that it would start her on a slippery slope to righteousness and magic. Shame on you… no wait… not good enough. This will go on your PERMANENT RECORD.

  6. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    I personally thought the F-bombs were pretty funny.

    Where is it written that EVERYTHING has to be sanitized for a child's "protection"? I'm very disappointed that this article was censored because of one complaint.

  7. Avatar Sue says:

    I'm a Granma too and I'm glad I got to read the story before you censored it…got a good laugh out of the original version. Maybe you should post a cautionary rating like they do for movies …"Warning, may contain strong language and a bit of violence" : )

  8. Avatar sarah says:

    What a cool story! Good sign to have old predators in the environment. Amazing animals.

  9. The language is not offensive… they are just words we need to get over it! Do people really think children are NOT hearing those words out there in the real world?

    As a Sex Column Author who has been criticized for talking about shhhhhhh s-e-x, I wonder why no one has mentioned the pornographic pictures, six to be exact, of a sadly decaying dead animal? That is much more offensive to some of us that a picture of a naked human body? What IS pornography I wonder???

    Food for thought….

    Keeping it real,


    • Avatar H. Horse says:

      I let my daughter say f U ( 1< (obsfucated to avoid the censors) at the dinner table provided it's not gratuitous, however she gets in big trouble for not recycling or for promoting and maintaining a narrow world view. I've also suggested to her that a strategically placed f-bomb is a more honest form of communication than a point weakly made. Am I wrong? Please advise.

    • Avatar gamerjohn says:

      Wait, Nancy's column is about sex? I thought it was about having fun fU(1<ing our brains out.

  10. Avatar Kathy O'Mara says:

    Tales from the North state! That is an amazing story. I have to think that the old fellow must have been really ill to come in so close to people. Thanks for the pictures, too. I thought that one of the woman and the shotgun was pretty funny. Probably a cat would be on a person and into the entree course before we even got that gun cocked. Hope I never have to find out first hand!

  11. Avatar amy says:

    Great interview Doni! And the f-bombs (before or after the ____ addition) are fine. If you think a 9-year-old hasn't heard that language AND that they can't process the idea that THEY don't use that language, even if someone else might, you don't live in the real world. Not to mention it was a quote, not something you, as author of the article, wrote.

    About mountain lions….when Greg and I lived on Almond Ave. in town, right across from the Benton Airfield flyway open space, there was a juvenile mountain lion that made it's way into the neighborhood and camped out in the trees, snagging a domestic cat or small dog now and then for food. When DFG was called, they brought it down, I think they had to kill it. I wish they'd had a better way to get it out of the tree and WAY out into the country….but these guys are so nomadic, he might have found his way back, since the pickins' were REAL good around there!

  12. Avatar Chris B. says:

    Awesome story, gotta love living in the north state.

    As for the F word, yep, part of life. As someone who just finished reading the last book in the Harry Potter series to my 10- and 7-year old with some rather spicy words, I chose not to censor but I also talk through things with the boys so they know when and where language is appropriate. Just another thing that you need to talk to your kids about, along with alternate lifestyles, drugs and other sensitive issues.

  13. Avatar Lita says:

    I LOVE the picture with the "New Perspective", you know, "Hind Sight" is 20/20! LOL! 🙂

  14. Avatar gamerjohn says:

    At first I thought the mountain lion was under Doni's Garden Tract home, then I thought she kicked the ex out of their old Igo palace.

  15. Avatar Leonhard Ott says:

    Yes, there are lots around, they walk through Redding all the time. I have seen them many times. They like to sit in trees and watch joggers and bicyclist. One is most likely watching you through your window right now. I know where some live but, I'll never tell. Learn to live with them or move to a bigger city.

  16. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Thank you for a great article Doni. I have so many unanswerable questions. Why would a sick cat end up at a human habitation? What killed this cat? A friend of mine was a licensed cat-tracker in Whitmore. When he killed a cat he had to bury the body and be able to find the grave again to prove that no part of the cat had entered the black market. He would also check the stomach contents to see if this cat was the culprit in dog snatching in the area, which was the usual reason for which he was employed.

    On the language front. While many profane words have become common in art and music, I'm hoping that news media will maintain a more sophisticated language level. That is to say, when I hear a person use the F word in public, it denotes a lack of culture and education. At home, it's one of my husband's favorite words. Casual English should be edited for the formal format of the news.

  17. Avatar david kerr says:

    Mountain lions mainly feed on deer. When they get too old to chase deer, they turn to other prey. That's what the biologist said when a mountain lion killed a dog at Whiskeytown. The deer population pretty much determines the mountain lion population.

    It is possible the mountain lion had rabies, perhaps from an encounter with a skunk. Rabies could make a mountain lion willing to come close to a house.

    There was a death at Mercy a few years ago from rabies contracted from a bat. Skunks get rabies from bats. There are other neurological diseases that a mountain lion could get from eating infected deer. Last year, I saw a deer staggering and shaking.

  18. Avatar CoachBob says:

    This is one of the better articles I've read on this site. Mr. Guinn is obviously a very bright guy with a great sense of humor/quick wit. Good interview!

    As to L. Watson: Keep your child locked in her room until she's at least 35. Sanitize her each and every night. Don't let her read anything but Hardy Boys novels. She'll do just fine after you let her out into the real world (cough).

    I'd suggest that, should you happen upon a dead lion in your yard, you might also let out with a "Holy S***, it's a F*****g mountain lion"! If those words hadn't been printed (to cleanse the article for your daughters sake), it wouldn't have been honest. After all, people do, and say, honest things when surprised like that.

    So, thanks, Doni! This was a good one.


  19. Avatar Kathleen says:

    LOVED the article! I'm no cusser but if I saw that mountain lion off my deck I'd let it fly!! Thought the language was appropriate for the event. Thanks Doni!

  20. Avatar Joe says:

    Just exactly what the liberals in California need and deserve. Lots of Mountain Lions coming into their lives. It will only be a few years until they start eating meals from the human smorgasbord that makes up the state where they are not being taught not to mess with humans. JMO

    • Avatar J P Adams says:

      Hey Joe, A hungry Mt. lion would probably attack a crazed trailer park teabagger as well… if it's desperate enough. Be aware!

    • Avatar H. Horse says:

      Good catch Joe! I missed that the first on the first reading. The communing with nature? An awareness of the evolution of the brain? Drinking wine on a deck? All those words spelled correctly? Now that you've brought it to my attention, this reeks of kumbaya. Clearly this licentious reprobate is a liberal.

      • Avatar Sue says:

        As one who has been know to drink wine on a deck (and everywhere else)

        I was referring to Adams comment. Once again Huhh?

  21. Avatar Leonhard Ott says:

    To all you people that read this and are now arming themselves. Please do not shoot any neighborhood children playing in the bushes. Children can turn up in the weirdest places. If you have to shoot, make sure you know what your shooting at.

  22. Avatar Steve M. says:

    That smell may not have been from the mountain lion.

  23. Avatar Ginny says:

    Interest story. Poor old lion. At least he has had a descent burial. And, people need to be careful if they are arming themselves. It should have not have to be said to see what you are shooting at, without being told!

    Like the photo of you with bangs, best, Doni.