A seven-year-old Port Alberni boy and his family will remember a five-second attack by a cougar for the rest of their lives,” Bobbi Schaffer said.
Schaffer is the stepmother of Kaylum Doherty, 7, who was attacked by a cougar on Wednesday night. Kaylum’s father Richard wasn’t available for comment.
On Wednesday night, Richard Doherty, 41, fought off a cougar that attacked Kaylum after a tent was pitched at the Taylor Flats section of Sproat Lake. The boy was rushed to West Coast General Hospital with puncture wounds to his his head, back, and left arm.
“Kaylum is on the mend after surgery to repair his wounds,” Schaffer said. He is scheduled for release from hospital this weekend. “It all happened so fast. I can’t believe we almost lost him,” Schaffer said. “He’s a strong, brave little guy.”
According to wildlife officials, a necropsy on the adult male cougar revealed that it weighed half as much as a healthy cat and was likely starving when it attacked.
At the hospital, Kaylum sits quietly on his blue-sheeted hospital bed in his dimly lit room. White medical bandages cover his head and rear shoulder. He watches the end of a movie on a portable DVD player while Schaffer switches on the television and scrolls though the channels for him.
Twice Kaylum shrugs his shoulders upward and breaks into a momentary mischievous grin. “I was going to wash my hands and I was almost eaten by a cougar,” he says softly. “My dad hit him with a rock and he’s gone now.”
A nurse comes into the room and it’s time for Kaylum to receive syringes of medication so the room is cleared.
Outside, Schaffer pauses for a moment before reflecting on the day of the attack.
The family of three pitched a camp at Taylor Flats at 6 p.m., just as they had several times before in the last two years.
“Richard said he and his family camped here a lot when he was growing up,” Bobbi said.
Kaylum enjoyed a wiener roast for supper and, after finishing, the family walked along a path to the river to wash their hands and utensils. Schaffer walked 10 feet behind Richard, while Kaylum walked 10 feet in front of him when he rounded a corner by a bush, she said.
“That’s where the cat pounced on him. I didn’t see it but Richard did,” Schaffer said. “He screamed ‘Get off my kid — get off’. Then he grabbed a rock and bashed it in the head.”
The cat kicked Richard breaking his rib then bounded five feet away, turned around and looked at Schaffer, she said. “It was skinny and looked sick. It looked like it was going to eat me,” she said. “I made myself look bigger, yelled and bashed it with a frying pan.”
Schaffer found there was no cellphone reception to call 911, so Richard scooped a profusely bleeding Kaylum in his arms and made a run for their car. Inside, Schaffer applied First Aid with a towel. “I kept thinking ‘towel-pressure, towel-pressure’ like I learned in a St. Johns Ambulance First Aid course,” she said.
The family’s troubles compounded when their car stalled by Sproat Lake Landing, where they finally managed to contact 911. “That was the scary part: the car was dying, there was no cellphone reception and Kaylum was bleeding,” Schaffer said. “We just waited for the ambulance and police. They got there quickly, but it felt like a long wait.”
Kaylum had scraped his knee and stubbed his toe before and screamed murder, Schaffer said. “He was quiet after this though,” Schaffer said. Richard was afraid for his son and yelling in car. “Kaylum told his dad to calm down and be quiet,” Schaffer said.
The family won’t be returning to the campground anytime soon, Schaffer said. “Richard and Kaylum want to move to the city now,” she said.
Shaffer is philosophical when asked how she felt about the animal’s fate. “I’m an animal lover and I feel sorry for it. But I understand why they had to put it down,” she said. “It attacked our boy and it was just a matter of time before it attacked someone else’s child.”