On the evening of June 23, forestry worker Dee Gallant, 45, was walking with her 115-pound husky retriever, Murphy, on a remote logging road a half-hour’s drive from her home in Duncan, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It wasn’t long before she realized they weren’t alone.
Here’s her story as told to Outside.
I’m not into dog parks, so I like to go up the mountain with my dog, where there aren’t other people. The trail I was on this time is in a gated area and not publicly accessible, but I used to work up there, and the crew doesn’t care.
It was already dusk when I started, but I thought I’d go anyway, because Murphy needed his walk.
A couple of kilometers up the road, I could feel something watching me. You know when the hair goes up on the back of your neck, and you just know something’s wrong? Over to my right, I saw this brown, rusty patch of ground that didn’t look right. Then I realized it was a cougar. Just a minute before, about 25 feet back down the trail, I had had to pee, so I had stepped off the trail and copped a squat. If I had waited another 15 feet, I would have been crouched down and in a really vulnerable position when it showed up.
My first thought after seeing the cat was, This is so awesome. My second thought was, It’s coming toward me. This is not awesome.
I raised my arms and waved them to try and look big, but it kept coming. So I stopped and looked at it and said, “Hey, you stop!” And it did.
Then I slowly pulled my phone out of my pocket to get a picture of it, but it was accidentally set on video, so I started recording.
It didn’t go away. It locked eyes and stayed there with me for probably five minutes, but it seemed like an eternity.
Murphy was on a really long Flexi leash, so I pulled him in close so we looked bigger together. But Murphy didn’t see the cat—I guess he was sniffing around looking for bunnies, which was probably for the best.
The cougar and I just stared at each other as I told it off. I called it a bad kitty, said I’d fight him, and yelled other things at it to see if it would leave. I wasn’t super scared at that point. But I wanted to be on my toes. I’m a pretty tough, Harley-riding kind of girl. I do kickboxing. I knew I’d get hurt if I had to fight it, but I wasn’t going to just give up.
That’s when I decided I needed to do something a little bit different, because it wasn’t going away. I stopped recording and started swiping through my music library looking for songs that have a real punch-in-the-face kind of start. I went past Norah Jones and Jack Johnson, the mellow stuff. Then I saw “Don’t Tread on Me” by Metallica. That was perfect, just what I wanted. I turned my volume all the way up and hit play. After being so fixated on me and looking so confident, the cat just turned and bolted into the bush as soon as it heard the music.
I didn’t know how large it was until it turned sideways—it was a lot bigger than I thought. I wouldn’t be able to take that kitty. I got nervous. I wasn’t sure where it was at that point or if it was going to jump out at me.
Murphy and I continued our hike since we were already there, but I kept my phone in my hand, music ready to go. I talked really loud to Murphy and stayed in the middle of the road the whole way. He kept looking at me like I was losing my mind. But we made it out and went home.
The video went viral when I posted it on Facebook. The following week, I got a message from the artist-liaison service for Metallica, telling me that one of the band members wanted to reach out. Soon after that, I was sitting at my desk at work and got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I almost didn’t answer since I was at work, but my boss said it was OK. When I picked up the phone, this super deep voice said, “Hi Denise, this is James Hetfield from Metallica.” I almost fell off my chair. We talked about what happened, dogs, and the places we live.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me they won’t go hiking without Metallica on their phone, and I tell them that’s great, by all means go buy one of their albums on iTunes. I can’t guarantee it will work—don’t sue me if it doesn’t—but it certainly did for me. I’m glad to be alive.