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Ann Cannon: Making eye contact with wild animals — or not

Published March 5, 2014 1:12 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Did you hear the story last week about the 11-year old girl in Washington state who shot a cougar that was stalking her brother? Props to Shelby White for taking care of business. Cougars won't be messing with THAT girl any time soon! And (if he's smart) neither will her brother!

I'm not sure my own brothers believe I would have done the same thing for them when we were kids. My track record as a protective sister was hardly stellar. As some of you may recall, I used to make my youngest brother wear a dress when he went outside to get the mail because I wanted the neighbors to think I had a sister.

Hey, neighbors! Look at me tricking you into believing I have a little sister!

But whatever. That's not the point. The point is this. Ever since I read about Shelby White, I've been indulging in one of my pet paranoid fantasies. I have a few of those, actually — scenarios that are unlikely to occur in real life but that nonetheless cause me a fair amount of anxiety whenever I think about them. For instance, I literally get sick to my stomach (this is the truth) whenever I think of myself accidentally floating off into space in a space suit, which is why I won't be seeing "Gravity" any time soon. Or putting on a space suit.

Here's the other thing I panic about sometimes — that I'll run into a wild animal somewhere and won't know how to respond properly, because unlike Shelby White, I don't pack.

It's not that I haven't read up on the subject. I have. Believe me, I've been reading all about what you're supposed to do if you run into a moose or a bear or a cougar or an alligator or a monkey or even the occasional feral Chihuahua. But the problem is I can't keep all the rules straight in my head.

Depending on the animal and the situation, sometimes you're supposed to play dead. Sometimes you're supposed to back slowly away. Sometimes you're supposed to run. Sometimes you're supposed to stand your ground and make yourself as big as possible, while growling back at the animal. Sometimes you're supposed to make eye contact to convince the animal that when it comes to bad-assery, you take the cake.

And sometimes you're not supposed to make eye contact at all, because that royally ticks off the animal. It's like an invitation for a fight. It's like you're Mike Tyson, just asking for some monkey to come along, bite your ears off and spit them out all over South Temple Street when you're out walking the dog first thing in the morning.

HEY, MONKEY! I DARE YOU! IN FACT, I DOUBLE-DARE YOU!

Ugh. I hate it when monkeys attack first thing in the morning.

Anyway. For some reason it's the eye contact issue that troubles me the most. Sometimes I do nothing all day long but sit on my front porch and worry about Eye Contact in the Animal Kingdom. Do I make it? Or don't I? What if it's a friendly wild animal? I don't want to be rude, but on the other hand. …

OK. Fine. You're right. I'm being crazy. And anyway if I get into real trouble, I know exactly what to do.

Just call Shelby White.