Animal Control Took Care Of It

Barry Purcell

© Copyright 2022 by Barry Purcell

Photo by Wilson Chen on Unsplash
 Photo by Wilson Chen on Unsplash

In 2007, I moved from Ireland to California in an attempt to save a marriage. I suddenly found myself transplanted from a land of permanent dampness and rolling green hills to a land of constantly blaring sunshine, capricious earthquakes and dusty rocks as far as the eye can see in every direction.

The marriage failed. I moved to a one-person apartment in Murrieta, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. I knew nothing and no one. I didnít have a cell phone. My laptop was in a computer shop in Laguna Niguel and would take a month to repair. I had no connection to a world beyond my field of vision. The grid had shuffled me off.

I took this time to go for walks around my neighbourhood and then on increasingly long drives to increasingly remote areas. I wanted to see some of the wildlife. During my walks, I had seen coyotes, whose twilight camouflage is so effective that I didnít even notice them mere feet away and who only came to my attention when they started rustling through the trash. I became braver in my attempts to track down these wonderful animals closer to their homes.

I had heard dark stories of dangerous American wild animals but I was never one to blindly accept propaganda. I was given stern warnings from lots of official government websites about bears and sharks and alligators and mountain lions.

I had never come close to a bear, but there was a famous conservation activist called Timothy Treadwell who was attacked only after thirteen years of spending his summers in Alaska harassing these allegedly dangerous animals. In my opinion, this represents enormous restraint on the part of the bear population.

As I cannot swim, I have never come close to a shark either but I had personal experience of alligators during a visit to the Everglades National Park in Florida. There was a raised wooden walkway through alligator-infested areas and lots of warnings on fence posts at regular intervals. Most of the alligators I saw were just sitting on the bank of the water in rows. In an effort to impress a girl, I hopped over the waist-high fence and patted one of them on the head. There was no reaction from that alligator, but one of his friends slid into the water. The park warden, on the other hand, started shouting at me in a panic. Clearly he had believed the hype and was expecting violence.

In fact, Iíve never seen a real-life alligator do anything at all other than sit in mud or slowly move into the water. I have no reason to fear them. I strongly suspect sharks have been subject to a similar disinformation campaign. I would be confident swimming with the most ostensibly dangerous sharks in the world.

My experience with mountain lions is different. The following is a faithful transcription of a phone conversation I had with my father back in Ireland from my Murietta apartment in the late summer of 2007.

My father: At last he calls. How are things in the colonies?

Me: Fine. Or maybe not. I'm in a bit of trouble and I need your advice. There's something - I should start at the start. You know coyotes? What a coyote is?

My father: Like a dingo.

Me: Yeah, the wild dogs they have over here. Well, I went looking for them - they're very attractive animals, you know? They look like Alsatians, but smaller and with longer legs and they're all grey. They're impressive. So I went looking for them, you know?

My father: How much is this going to cost me?

Me: It's not going to cost you anything. Shush for a second. So I went up to the mountains, and I had some sandwiches in the back, you know. I like sandwiches, whatever. So I saw some coyotes and got out to say hello, or take photos, or whatever, and they must have got wind of the sandwiches because when I was over looking at the coyotes, a mountain lion jumped into my car.

My father: A mountain lion.

Me: Yeah. You know, a lion. Like a cougar. They live in the mountains here.

My father: A lion.

Me: Yeah. So I wasn't sure what to do, so I waited for a while, but it started settling down. I can't have a lion in my car, you know, it might kill me on the way home. So I opened up the trunk, and quickly pulled down the back seat, slammed the trunk again and ran away.

My father: You should have called the police.

Me: I didn't have a phone! Anyway I was halfway up a mountain and I had no idea how to describe where I was. All those California mountains look the same.

My father: That's typical you, isn't it? Even I have a phone and I'm 78 years old!

Me: Getting back to my more immediate problem, I waited until the lion wandered into the trunk, and then jumped in the front of the car, and pushed the back seat up again.

My father: And?

Me: And I drove home.

My father: So everything's OK?

Me: Oh yeah. Everythingís great. Except for the lion in my trunk!

My father: The what?

Me: The mountain lion. It's still in my trunk!

My father: Let him out!

Me: He'll kill me! Anyway I'm back in my apartment. Itís in a residential area. No idea what damage he'll do.

My father: Go to the police!

Me: I can't! They're protected! No one's allowed interfere with these things at all. If I contact any of these people I'll get arrested. They're serious about that sort of thing over here. It's not like in Ireland where we'd sort it out quietly, invite the police in for a beer and all have a laugh about it. They'll put me in prison where I'll be forced to join a Mexican gang or something.

My father: No gang would have you. You're an idiot.

Me: Whatever. That's not the point. I'm asking, what do you think I should do?

My father: You should go out to your car...

Me: Yeah?

My father: Right now. As soon as we're finished this call. Go out to the car.

Me: Right?

My father: Open up the back,

Me: OK.

My father: And just let him eat you.

Me: That's not really- Hello?

Here is what I have learned about mountain lions: They are much bigger than you think and react very badly to being locked in enclosed spaces.

Barry Purcell lived in California for six years but he is back in Ireland
now and writes political pieces for Areo Magazine and Arc Digital.

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