Colorado wildlife officials are tracking a mountain lion that attacked an 85-pound dog, possibly other pets and goats in Summit County

Silverthorne resident Cody Thomas said the Ring Video Doorbell on his front door caught this video of a mountain lion in his yard just days before one of the predatory cats attacked his 85-pound dog Timber on Sunday night, Feb. 4, 2024.
Cody Thomas/Courtesy photo

Silverthorne resident Cody Thomas knew mountain lions lived in his backyard. He’d seen them on a security camera, lurking feet from the front door.

So, even though Timber — the family’s 85-pound black lab — is a “real athletic” hunting dog, Thomas said he was careful whenever he let the dog out at night. But standing on the porch just before bed Sunday, Feb. 4, Thomas heard an “awful howl-cry.”

He said he knew instantly that a mountain lion had attacked Timber, who had wandered just out of sight onto the driveway behind the detached garage, not more than 30 yards away. It was about 9 p.m.

“That lion had my dog pinned down on the driveway and my dog was yelping,” Thomas said. “I just started running at (the mountain lion) and yelling. I could tell the lion was a little bigger than Timber. A little longer. But not quite. Honestly, it couldn’t have weighed a whole lot more.”

Thomas said he came within a few feet of Timber before the wild cat let go of the dog and ran off in the direction of the Silverthorne Elementary School, directly adjacent to his house. Timber is currently recovering after being rushed to an emergency animal hospital in Denver.

Other pets in the area haven’t been so lucky, though. Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager Alex Strasser said there have been a handful of reports of missing pets in and around the Ptarmigan Mountain neighborhood over the past month.

At least three goats have also been killed in the same neighborhood since the start of the month. It is safe to assume that the culprit behind at least some of the attacks is a mountain lion that has become too accustomed to humans, Strasser said. 

It is also possible — though impossible to say for certain — that the same mountain lion was involved in an attack on a dog a week earlier near Keystone, he said. Those pet owners saved their dog after tracking the mountain lion through the snow and firing two gunshots.

“The attacks are becoming more frequent,” Strasser said. “It’s never good. Especially when we’re having multiple lion attacks over such a condensed area. That’s a lion that has been habituated to people, and it’s not looking at its natural prey. It’s looking at goats. It’s looking at dogs.”

Timber, an 85-pound black lab, prior to being attacked by a mountain lion in Silverthorne on Sunday night, Feb. 4, 2024.
Cody Thomas/Courtesy photo

The Colorado Rocky Mountains provide natural habitat for mountain lions. Also known as cougars, panthers and pumas, mountain lions are powerful, elusive predators that usually hunt deer or elk. People rarely get more than a brief glimpse of a mountain lion in the wild.

But as Summit County has grown over the years, more and more people have moved into “mountain lion country,” Strasser said. While people can coexist peacefully with the predators, there is a real concern for people’s safety when a mountain lion starts to feel comfortable in residential neighborhoods, he said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is actively attempting to trap the mountain lion behind the recent attacks in Summit County in order to either relocate the cat or kill it, Strasser said. The wildlife agency will either lure the cat into a trap with a carcass or track and corner it with hounds, he said.

Anyone who encounters a mountain lion or has a domesticated animal go missing in Summit County should contact the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Hot Sulfur Springs office to file a report, Strasser said. Residents and visitors should also take preventative steps to avoid wildlife encounters, he added.

“In a case like this lion, where it’s hanging out in the same area, it starts to be a human health concern,” Strasser said. “We want to get that lion out of there. If we hear about these things, we can go look for tracks when it’s still fresh.”

Mountain lions stalk prey and attack with a sudden rush — often from behind — using powerful jaws to break the windpipe or break the neck of their prey, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. An adult male mountain lion can be up to 8 feet in length and weigh up to 150 pounds, while females may be up to 7 feet long and 90 pounds.

Understanding and respecting mountain lions and their habitat can help prevent dangerous encounters, the website states. To reduce problems with mountain lions, people should make noise when coming or going around dusk or dawn, install outdoor lighting and landscape yards to remove hiding spots for lions, especially around play areas.

Pet owners should not let their animals out alone at night and keep pets within eyesight — or better yet — on a leash, Strasser said. Most of the time, a mountain lion will flee from loud sounds or shouting, he said.

In Colorado, pets are considered personal property, so it is illegal to shoot a mountain lion that is attacking or eating a domesticated dog or cat, Strasser noted. But if a human life is on the line, lethal force can be used, he said.

In a face-to-face encounter with a mountain lion, don’t run since that could trigger the cat’s predator instinct. Anyone that encounters a mountain lion should remain calm, attempt to make themselves look big and fight back with rocks, sticks or nearby objects if the cat acts aggressively, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

After the mountain lion attack in his driveway, Thomas said he is afraid for the safety of his wife and their infant twin boys as well as children who may be walking to or from the nearby elementary school.

Because his dog is larger than some children, Thomas said he didn’t really think a mountain lion would attack Timber.

“I just couldn’t believe it. I guess because I was there, I wasn’t far from him and he’s a big dog,” Thomas said. “He didn’t even have time to bark. This (mountain lion) was just sitting behind my snowmobile trailer and — boom! — just got him behind the neck, just as quick as I could even think.”

Usually full of energy, Timber is recovering after a mountain lion attack in Silverthorne on Feb. 4, 2024.
Cody Thomas/Courtesy photo

At 4-years-old, Timber has always been full of energy, earning him the nickname Tigger after the “Winnie the Pooh” character who is always bouncing around, Thomas said. The veterinarian at the animal hospital believes Timber fought back after the mountain lion got hold of him, he said.

Timber, who Thomas described as “like a kid to us,” sustained bite marks on the top of his head and around his neck as well as claw marks on his underbelly. Heavily sedated, Timber does not have his usual energy but is recovering.

“It was just a sneak attack really. It was really fast,” Thomas said. “I was naive despite my experience with cats and hunting. They’re usually scared of dogs. Timber is a huge dog. But this cat was pretty bold.”

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