« Return to this article

Know the West

Heard around the West



What "whiskered blob of blubber" terrorizes swimmers, raids fishing nets and once in a while shoves people off boats? A sea lion is the answer, reports the Los Angeles Times, in its vivid story of a horde of "pit bulls with flippers" muscling their way into Newport Beach for the summer — again. Last year, the burly animals — a protected species — alienated locals by sinking a sailboat that had taken its owner years to restore. The "slovenly sea creatures" also barked incessantly and frequently vomited, depositing smelly messes. What to do? "When Monterey was overrun by 1,500 sea lions a few years ago, town officials supplied giant squirt guns to criminals doing community service and had them roam the marina with orders to shoot to soak." That helped, but the sea lions got used to the barrage of water, just as they’ve become inured to rubber bullets, fake killer whales and raucous underwater noises. Desperate town officials are trying something new this summer: an automated water cannon invented in Canada that looks like a big-billed parrot. It has reportedly worked to deter vultures, moose, kangaroos and bears — though not elephants. Maybe it will shoo away the sea lions. Or maybe not: The wily animals have been swimming from one part of the harbor to another to escape a wetting; what’s more, one really big bull has decided it likes lying on the vessel that carries the water gun.



Bold mountain lions are making some homeowners nervous. One couple in Evergreen, Colo., told the Denver Post that a lion snatched their Siamese cat. A week later, the lion chased the couple into their house and almost bit the man’s leg. He was saved by his wife, who closed the door on the lion’s head and forced the animal outside. The lion then returned almost nightly, walking on the roof and lurking close to their 6-year-old son’s bedroom. A few weeks later, the Denver Daily told of a suburban couple who rescued their dog after three lions jumped in its pen. The dog lived, although it suffered 20 cuts and was thoroughly mauled. In both cases, the families shied away from urging retaliation for the attacks. Explained dog-owner Tim Wasinger, "The cats were not doing anything they should not have been doing. We’re in their territory."



A somewhat smaller cat in Fairfield, Conn., made national news after attacking a half-dozen people and pouncing on an Avon lady as she tried to get out of her car. The Avon representative told The New York Times that Lewis the cat fooled her into thinking he was harmless by approaching her in purr mode. Then he ripped four holes in her leg. This brought Lewis into the judicial system and could have led to a sentence of execution. The judge was merciful, however, and ordered house arrest. Standing by in the courtroom and ready to offer sanctuary were folks from Kanab, Utah, who run the "Best Friends Animal Society," an air-conditioned, no-kill cat house in Kanab, Utah. The closest neighbor to the 600-cat establishment is a curio shop about 4 miles away. Should Lewis violate his parole and wander over, owner Victor Sandonato sounds every bit a match for him. "I’m from South Jersey," he told the Salt Lake Tribune, "so I don’t take crap from a cat."



Don’t try this on the highway: The Eagle Valley Enterprise reports that a man driving erratically explained he was "making a movie and this was in the script." He was taken to the Eagle County jail.



The University of North Dakota, which waives tuition for many of its 400-plus Native American students, calls its sports teams the Fighting Sioux, and it’s not giving up that name or its Indian-head logo without a fight. Though the National Collegiate Athletic Association told the college it was one of 17 schools that must drop its "hostile and abusive" name, university president Charles Kupchella is challenging the order in court. "We do not do tomahawk chops, we do not have white guys painted up like Indians, and our fans do not do Indian chants," he told the New York Post. Kupchella added, "Once the self-righteous come to believe in the absolute correctness — political or otherwise — of their point of view, they proceed with a zeal that leaves no room for reasonable doubt, thoughtful consideration or fairness." Kupchella has the support of one of the two Lakota Sioux tribes in the state, the Spirit Lake Nation; the NCAA, however, has said this is "not persuasive."

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.