Ed and Kathy Suddeth were home watching television when a large mountain lion scampered in their open front door off Oakhaven Lane above Phoenix Lake late Sunday night, and the big cat was in such a hurry it walked right past Ed and brushed into Kathy when it went to turn around.
“We heard a loud bang, the door swung open, I went over by the stairs and he walked right by me,” Ed Suddeth said Monday afternoon at his home.
“He touched me right here,” Kathy Suddeth said, holding a hand by her waist. “Up here. I’d say he’s three feet long and add three foot of tail. He was bigger than a German Shepherd, smaller than a St. Bernard. He was gold, a sandy color.”
The mountain lion apparently wanted to get out but had come through the front with such force it sent the door bouncing off another surface and swinging back to a closed position, the Suddeths said. Blocked from leaving the way it came in, the big cat took a sharp right into Ed’s office, a converted bedroom with an attached bathroom.
“When he went in the office I pulled that door closed and we went and barricaded ourselves in the basement to call 911,” Ed Suddeth said. “We talked to them a long time. They couldn’t understand what we were saying. A mountain lion inside a house? Finally they said Fish and Wildlife would call us back.”
The Suddeths said they waited about a half-hour in their basement, and eventually the first state Fish and Wildlife officer or animal control officer arrived, followed by another officer, and four uniformed law enforcement officers.
The rest of this account the Suddeths did not witness. They stayed in their basement where they felt safe. Staff with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office posted a video with audio and a still image showing the mountain lion lying on the office bathroom’s tiled floor next to the toilet and the shower, its head raised, eyes and mouth open, and one of its front legs stretched out, as if something just woke the big cat up from a nap.
The Suddeths said one of the Fish and Wildlife officers took the photo from a perch on a ladder outside the bathroom window. The Suddeth said that one plan the first responders put together included having a wildlife officer use a tranquilizer gun to shoot and sedate the mountain lion for removal. Once an officer got up on that ladder, saw the size of the mountain lion and the layout in the bathroom, they decided that shooting from a ladder into a small room at a live mountain lion was a bad idea.
One of the first responders found some lumber outside the Suddeths’ home and used a piece of the wood to bust out the bathroom window. At one point the mountain lion got up and sat in the bathroom sink, next to the single window in the commode.
“Then they started banging on the bathroom door,” Ed Suddeth said. “They banged on that door until the cat jumped out the window.”
Video and audio the Sheriff’s Office posted includes about 30 seconds of the sounds of a man saying “Now you can pound on that sucker,” repeated hard and loud pounding, a man trying to growl “Arrrgh!” like a mountain lion, the question “Anything?” and the response “Nothing,” then more pounding, the sounds of something moving in shards of glass, and the sudden appearance of the mountain lion leaping from the window and the top rung of the ladder leaned against the window sill.
“We didn’t get photos, good grief no!” Kathy Suddeth said Monday. “We were locked up in the basement the whole time. We came out when the mountain lion was gone.”
Kathy Suddeth said she was glad the first responders did take photos because, otherwise, “nobody would believe you. That’s why the people on 911 didn’t understand what we were saying. It was all too incredible.”
On Monday the ladder was still set up outside the bathroom window. The Suddeths were in good humor, especially since no one was hurt and the mountain lion apparently got away uninjured and without having to be sedated.
“The good Lord looks after all of us,” Kathy Suddeth said, “animals, too.”
But late Sunday and early Monday as they first got their minds around what had happened, that a big mountain lion had come into their home while they were sitting right there, they decided to alert their neighbors. Ed Suddeth sent out an email to his neighbors up around Oakhaven Lane, before the Sheriff’s Office posted information to social media Monday afternoon.
Their next-door neighbor Jim Blodgett said he got one of those emails and he exclaimed in wonder when he saw the video and still image of the mountain lion itself.
“That’s a big old cat, hunh?” Blodgett said. “This is the first I’ve seen of it.”
Blodgett said he’s lived on Oakhaven Lane for about seven years and he’s seen at least one mountain lion a few years ago. He’s also seen a bear or bears regularly, getting in the trash, and one bear that came to take a dip in Blodgett’s pool the first time it came to visit.
“We’re used to seeing wild animals up here but that is crazy to see a mountain lion in somebody’s bathroom,” Blodgett said. “Those ain’t going into houses every day.”
The Suddeths think maybe the big mountain lion was trying to chase a domestic cat, because Monday morning a neighbor was calling out trying to find their pet cat, and the domestic pet was hiding underneath a table in the living room, and they coaxed it out.
Biologists say mountain lions are common in the Mother Lode because their favorite walking food — deer —- make their homes and live and procreate up here.
Mountain lions tend to be shy and extremely stealthy, Sheriff’s Office staff said. People who live wherever deer show up should always keep their doors and outbuildings closed and secure. Anyone who encounters a mountain lion in person should make noise, act defiant and unafraid, maintain eye contact, do not turn and run, instead slowly create distance, and fight back if attacked.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.