Modesto police investigate reported mountain lion sightings

This Mastiff dog, who from a distance could appear to some to be a mountain lion, was spotted near the sheriff’s training center early Wednesday morning (07-16-14) in Modesto, Calif.
This Mastiff dog, who from a distance could appear to some to be a mountain lion, was spotted near the sheriff’s training center early Wednesday morning (07-16-14) in Modesto, Calif. Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department

Modesto police on Wednesday issued a warning to residents of two mountain lion sightings in south Modesto. However, there were similar sightings of a large dog, a Mastiff, roaming the area around the same time.

The first apparent mountain lion sighting was reported at 11 p.m. Tuesday in the area of Crows Landing Road and Whitmore Avenue, said Modesto police spokeswoman Heather Graves. About 4:15 a.m. Wednesday, a deputy reported seeing the suspected mountain lion near a loading dock in an industrial area of Morgan Road and Rockefeller Drive.

About 30 minutes later, deputy Cory Brown spotted a large dog near the sheriff’s training center off Crows Landing Road. He said the Mastiff mix had a long tail like a mountain lion, a golden coat and black lips like a mountain lion; it even stalked through the street kind of like a mountain lion, but it most certainly was a dog.

He snapped a photo of it before it took off toward the animal shelter.

“Ninety percent of reported sightings are a case of mistaken identity, with dogs, raccoon, foxes, bobcats and house cats being the usual suspects,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife marketing specialist Carol Singleton.

Whether the dog Brown saw was the same creature spotted earlier in the night is unknown.

While most mountain lion sightings are a case of eyes playing tricks, their habitat does include the western portion of Stanislaus County and they have been known to make their way to cities in search of food by way of greenbelts and the shores of rivers or streams.

Singleton said there are an estimated 6,000 mountain lions in California that can be found wherever deer exist.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a wayward deer made its way into a Modesto furniture store Monday.

Police received several reports early Monday morning from motorists who nearly hit the buck near Sixth and M streets.

Later that evening, the animal wound up inside the furniture store about a mile away in the 200 block of North Ninth Street.

Graves said neither Modesto animal control nor Stanislaus County animal control was available to respond, so two police officers went to the scene and used a snare to capture the buck.

The deer was in bad shape, she said. One of its eyes apparently had been eaten by parasites and its hip was injured, possibly from being hit by a car.

In a video taken by an employee of the furniture store, the wild animal can be seen desperately trying to escape the officers, jumping over couches and tables and running into a glass window several times. In the process, it broke an antler and a hind leg.

The officers knew they had to euthanize the animal but couldn’t shoot it for fear of a ricochet in the concrete building, Graves said. One officer, a hunter, used his knife to kill the deer.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife on Monday reported that the drought might be propelling wildlife to search farther for food and water, leading them into more populated areas.

The department warned not to approach or feed the animals.

Environmental Scientist Marc Kenyon said in a news release that although a drought “can be stressful for animals, they are also a natural part of ecological systems that regulates their numbers. In nature, we must realistically expect some starvation and overall increased mortality.”