RUSSELL — Rebecca M. Perry finds it hard to believe that a black bear savagely mauled her two horses at her Silver Hill Road home last summer.
In her mind, the culprit was a mountain lion, an animal that her neighbors swear they've seen while driving along County Route 27.
On Aug. 15, she awoke to find her two retired show horses, Red and Brownie, bleeding from a number of wounds after being attacked by an animal the night before.
"Both horses had multiple lacerations on their chest, legs and rumps," Mrs. Perry said.
She said Red's injuries were the worst, requiring up to 200 stitches to close gashes on his chest and back legs, where bone, tendon and an artery were visible in one gash. Brownie's injuries were superficial, she said.
Brownie has made a full recovery and is being ridden, and Red is still recovering, Mrs. Perry said. She said the attack has left Red unable to carry an adult.
The veterinarian who initially treated the horses said the wounds could have been inflicted by a big cat, presumably a mountain lion.
Dr. Kirsten D. Anderson of Lake Effect Veterinary Service, Watertown, said, "The lacerations looked liked a larger version of typical house cat lacerations and were on the lower portion of each horse, as if the horses had reared up over the animal."
"The claw marks were closer together than bear claws would be," Dr. Anderson said. "I have only seen one other horse that came in from Montana or Wyoming with similar wounds. Nothing else here."
She said she has seen cougars in Jefferson County.
"I did see, five or six years ago, two large cats loping along the edge of a hayfield near Brownville," she said.
Dr. Anderson said the Perrys' horses had a history of chasing dogs, so the theory is that they thought the mountain lion was a dog out in their pasture, went after it and rolled it, and then the cat scratched their undersides and legs as it was trying to get away.
The day of the attack, Mrs. Perry said, there was little blood and no tracks found at the scene.
"My husband and I took rifles and walked the land after the horses were all taken care of and in their stalls. We found not one footprint belonging to a large animal," she said.
Two days after the attack, members of the state Department of Environmental Conservation visited the house and ruled out canines and small cats as the culprits.
"They thought it was a bear," Mrs. Perry said, "but I have contacted many bear specialists that just don't believe it was a bear. They did take measurements of all the injuries and some blonde hair from Red's hoof. They said the marks on the back of Red's leg, two puncture wounds at the top of the hoof, were about 11/2 inches apart — the size of a small bear's canine teeth, or, in my opinion, a small cougar's canine teeth. They have told us that cougars are not located in our area, so it must be from a bear."
She said DEC officials set up a trail camera in front of the barn but, although it was set off a couple of times, whatever triggered it moved too quickly to be captured on film.
She has her doubts that it was a black bear, but admits she has seen several bears roaming the woods in the 10 years she's lived in Russell.
She said she believes her horses were attacked by a mountain lion.
"People should know they're out there," she said.
In the past several weeks, there have been reports of mountain lions being seen in the Massena area.
Officials with DEC said there is not a mountain lion population in New York and the majority of sightings are cases of mistaken identity.
For weeks after the attack, Mrs. Perry said, she saw no deer or wild turkeys that usually frequent the fields around her home. Even crickets stopped chirping.
"It was just silence. It was very eerie," she said.