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Attacked by cougar, B.C. couple find support from family, neighbours

Rick and Sandy, the couple who grappled with a cougar on Flores Island, live pretty much alone in the wilderness, hours by boat from the nearest road and the town of Tofino.

But when they got in trouble, they found out just how close their neighbours really are on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, where thick rain forest, mountains and sea channels separate communities.

After the cougar attacked Sandy in September, she was picked up by the Coast Guard and rushed to hospital in Victoria, where she underwent nine hours of surgery.

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Her scalp had been ripped partly off. The biceps on her left arm were badly torn. The cougar's teeth crushed her right hand. She had claw punctures in her shoulders and back. And one claw cut a gash down her forehead, ending just above her eye, while another tore open her cheek.

She remembers feeling that claw and thinking it was going to blind her. But the eye was spared.

Rick, who saved Sandy by killing the cougar with a spear, was in shock as he waited at the hospital, worrying about his partner of 30 years.

But he was not left alone for long.

"I didn't know what was going to happen to her. Luckily … the next day after the operation, I had really good friends of mine who came to Victoria. I was surrounded by love. By friends," Rick said in a recent interview.

"Ohhh, and family," said Sandy.

"Feeding us. I had a hospital room. A really nice place. The surgeon was awesome. The nurses were awesome. It turned into a really great experience. The first few days were awful. But after it was really fun."

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That comment draws a mock laugh from Rick.

"It was fun," she insists. "It turns out it was bad when it happened, but then I had just the amazing support of people and friends. It's just been out of this world."

Rick said one of the things they appreciated was how people rallied to make sure they had a steady supply of natural food in Victoria, where Sandy spent eight days in hospital and a week in Easter Seals House.

The couple, who in an effort to protect their privacy do not want their last names used, have lived off the land for three decades in a small cabin set amid gardens in the wilderness.

"She was antsy to get out of there," Rick said of the hospital. "We weren't allowing her to eat [institutional meals]. She's eaten all of our own organic vegetables, fresh salmon from the West Coast, from friends on Hornby Island. She hasn't eaten any hospital food here at all."

The support didn't end there.

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Cosy Lawson, who grew up on a small island much closer to Tofino, set up a Facebook page (Rick and Sandy recovery) and a fund at the CIBC (In Trust for Sandy, account #5316383, transit #03440).

Ms. Lawson, who works for Vancouver Island Health Authority, said the response of people "has been wonderful" with $1,600 soon donated. She hopes more will come in as word spreads.

"They have to travel a lot to Victoria [where Sandy is getting skin grafts], and this eases their burden," she said.

Living in the wilderness requires a lot of hard labour, hauling wood, tending the smokehouse and keeping up the gardens. Rick is doing the work for both of them now, but Sandy hopes to recover to the point where she can do her share again.

"I'm feeling really good. … I'd feel better if I could use my right hand," she says. "I kind of feel bad because he has enough of his stuff to do, but he's been great helping me. I just have to slow down and realize this will not be forever."

There once was a time when a lot of Canadians lived off the land the way Rick and Sandy do. Few of us could do it now, but it's nice to know that old values, like neighbours helping neighbours, haven't been forgotten.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More


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