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Alberni cougar attack victim awarded for bravery

Conservation Service Chief Kelly Larkin, left, beams after presenting a bravery award and honourary conservation officer citation to Kaylem Doherty on Friday afternoon. Doherty survived a cougar attack in Alberni in August 2012 and has since displayed an interest in one day becoming a conservation officer. - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
Conservation Service Chief Kelly Larkin, left, beams after presenting a bravery award and honourary conservation officer citation to Kaylem Doherty on Friday afternoon. Doherty survived a cougar attack in Alberni in August 2012 and has since displayed an interest in one day becoming a conservation officer.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

A Port Alberni boy who survived a cougar attack last summer was acknowledged for his bravery and given special recognition by the BC Conservation Service.

Conservation officials presented Kaylum Doherty, 8, with a certificate of bravery and a service medal in a special ceremony at the BC Conservation office in Port Alberni. Doherty's father Rick and Bobbi Jo Shafer were presented with bravery awards as well.

“The family experienced a lot of physical and emotional trauma as a result of the event,” Conservation Service Chief Kelly Larkin said. “Even getting to safety was a challenge they had to fight through.”

The arc of events began on Aug. 15 when Doherty and his parents were camping at the Taylor Flats section of Sproat Lake. Kaylum was attacked and by an adult cougar and left with puncture wounds to his head, back and arm.

Kaylum's parents fought the animal off then loaded the profusely bleeding boy into the family car after finding there was no cellphone reception. The car broke down just as they called 9-1-1. “Kaylum stayed calm through the whole thing,” Shafer said. “We were the ones who were panicking.”

Kaylum remembered the incident clearly. “I remember when the cougar grabbed me and bit me. I was breathing really hard in the ambulance,” he said.

Kaylum has since expressed an interest in becoming a conservation officer, officials said. “It's important to recognize people's bravery in the face of adversity,” Larkin said. “Kaylum is a symbol for the conservation service, and a good spokesperson at school.”

Conservation officers found and put down the animal that attacked Kaylum. A subsequent necropsy revealed it weighed half as much as it should have and was likely starving.

.Rick accepted his award with humility saying his actions weren't out of the ordinary. “I did what any other father would have done in the same situation,” he said.

During the recounting of the event, Rick choked back tears and began tremoring while listening. “It's like reliving it and I never want to experience something like that again,” he said. “My son is better and safer now though, and that's what's important.”

Kaylem's long road to recovery has nearly ended, Rick said. The boy's nightmares are fewer and he's begun to venture into the backyard, Rick said. “It helps that we have a couple of dogs back there now,” he said.

The event has had an impact on Richard and Bobbi-Jo's relationship. Counselling has been slow in coming to deal with the trauma of the incident and the couple has separated. “That (lack of counselling) played a role in our separation,” Shafer said.

The family hasn't been back to where the attack took place. Nevertheless, they will go camping again, Doherty said. “I grew up outdoors and I don't want Kaylum to miss out on those experiences because of that experience,” Doherty said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

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