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No collars in dead cougar

ASHLAND — Police Department Chief Terry Holderness said Friday he was misinformed when he announced that pet collars were found in the stomach of a cougar that police shot in Ashland on Feb. 7.

"It's embarrassing to the police department and I'm going to find out what happened so it doesn't happen again," Holderness said.

At the end of an Ashland City Council meeting on Tuesday, the chief said a necropsy, or animal autopsy, revealed pet collars in the cougar's stomach.

He said he heard an Oregon State Police employee had told an evidence property clerk with the city's police department about the collars.

Oregon State Police had been on the scene with APD officers when the cougar, which was resting in a tree in the Clay Street yard of a senior citizen, was shot first by an APD officer and then a state police officer. Neighbors had reported missing pets prior to the shooting.

Holderness said an Oregon Fish and Wildlife biologist left him a voice mail on Friday saying the information about the pet collars in the cougar's stomach was false. Holderness called an Ashland reporter on Friday to report the information was wrong.

Holderness said he also contacted City Administrator Martha Bennett about the error and corrected information going out to City Council members.

The department has been fiercely criticized by some residents who contend the cougar should not have been shot. Several residents spoke at the council meeting Tuesday to ask that the city develop a policy to deal with wild animals.

Holderness said APD did not intentionally put out wrong information about the pet collars.

"If that were true, I wouldn't have called everyone to apologize," he said, noting he called news reporters and notified city officials after listening to the voice mail from Oregon Fish and Wildlife. "At the time I put (the information) out, I thought it was true."

Holderness said the APD employee who talked to the OSP employee was at training on Friday. But Holderness said he will talk to him next week to try and find out who he talked to from OSP and why the OSP employee said pet collars were in the cougar's stomach.

OSP Sergeant Kirk Meyer said on Friday that he and other OSP officers were present when the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife performed the necropsy. He said the necropsy was done in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Central Point office almost immediately after the cougar was shot.

"I never heard anything about any pet collars being inside it. That information wasn't from me or any of my guys," Meyer said. "We were all present when ODFW cut into it. I didn't see any pet collars."

He said the cougar appeared healthy, although his understanding is that it had parasites like tapeworms. Meyer said he hasn't seen a written report about the necropsy.

ODFW Wildlife biologist Mark Vargas said Friday the cougar's stomach contained only partially digested pieces of a squirrel's jaw and paws.

"There wasn't much in the belly at all," he said. "It's common to have an empty belly for a while. Sometimes there's nothing, sometimes there's a little and sometimes the bellies come in bulging with meat."

He said if the city of Ashland wants to develop a policy on cougars in town, it would have to work with ODFW, which is the managing authority for big game animals, including cougars.

The city can, however, develop human safety protocols because it is responsible for public safety, Vargas said.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.