By SUSAN MENDE
TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2011
CANTON — Dana M. Barry of Farmer Street no longer walks village streets alone after dark.
She said she believes she encountered an Eastern mountain lion while walking by herself on Mildon Road about 10 p.m. July 19. She wants to make others in the community aware.
“It was crossing the road in front of me. I froze in shock and it stopped when I did. It turned its neck and stared into my face,” Mrs. Barry said. “One leap and it could have been on top of me.”
The animal was about 15 feet away and directly under a streetlight that provided a clear view in the darkened night, she said, estimating that it weighed about 100 pounds.
Mrs. Barry, an educator at Clarkson University, Potsdam, said the animal had brown fur and a long tail. Bobcats have short tails.
“I didn’t do a DNA test, but it looked exactly like a mountain lion to me. It was right under the streetlight,” she said, noting that without her cell phone she couldn’t take a picture.
Since the incident, Mrs. Barry said, she has looked at several photographs of mountain lions on the Internet and she’s certain she crossed the path of one that evening. The next day she headed out for a trip to Alaska. She reported the sighting to Canton village police after her return home.
Another woman, Patty A. Schwartfigure of Norwood, said she believes she saw a mountain lion this spring near a parking lot at Clarkson University, Potsdam. It was about 4:15 a.m. and she was sitting in her car before her shift started as a custodian.
“It jumped up on the rock wall and started walking down the wall,” Ms. Shwartfigure recollected. “I could tell by the way it was walking that it wasn’t a dog. The tail was too long for a dog. I’m positive it was a mountain lion.”
An official from the state Department of Environmental Conservation said it’s possible, but unlikely, that the two women encountered a mountain lion.
“We do not have a mountain lion population in New York state,” said Stephen W. Litwhiler, spokesman for DEC’s region 6.
However, he said, it’s possible that a mountain lion in captivity could have been intentionally or accidentally released.
“Could someone see a mountain lion? It’s possible, but not probable,” Mr. Litwhiler said. “Someone could have gotten a cub from another state and then released it.”
In order to conclude the existence of mountain lions, he said, more evidence is required, such as one being struck and killed by a motorist or widespread sightings by hunters.
“If we had mountain lions, there would be a dead one in the road,” Mr. Litwhiler said.
Although DEC receives many emails and phone calls about alleged mountain lion sightings, the agency does not have time to pursue an investigation, he said.
“We have one wildlife staff person in St. Lawrence County. It’s not anything we have the time to put the effort into. Invariably it’s a wild goose chase,” Mr. Litwhiler said.
Another village resident, John C. “Jack” Meyers, Crary Drive, said he saw a very large cat-like animal chasing deer in his backyard about 5:30 a.m. one day earlier this month.
“I couldn’t swear it was a mountain lion, but my first thought was it looked like a cat. Usually, you wouldn’t see a plain old cat chasing deer,” he said.
Canton Village Patrolman Kevin J. Mousaw said he has spoken with Mrs. Barry and Mr. Meyers about their animal sightings and also has contacted DEC.
He is interested in obtaining photographs, if any are available, showing the presence of a mountain lion in the community.
“We don’t want people to panic, but the community should be aware,” he said. “People should call us immediately so we can try to identify it.”
Last year, mountain lion sightings were reported in Massena.