Lifestyles

Cecil ‘Cougar’ Smith and his legendary tracking dog Dick

Cecil ‘Cougar’ Smith with Dick and their prize. - Photo courtesy Campbell River Museum
Cecil ‘Cougar’ Smith with Dick and their prize.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Campbell River Museum

There are many legends and stories about Cecil ‘Cougar’ Smith, who was famous for his skill at hunting cougars.

He was born in Darbyshire, England in 1878, and immigrated with his family to Black Creek when he was about nine years old.  From a young age he showed an aptitude for tracking and at the tender age of 14, killed his first cougar.  Over the years, he made a career of hunting, and guiding for other hunters, and eventually, drew a salary from the province working as their agent tracking cougars, while at the same time collecting bounties on the cougars.

Cecil had many different dogs over the years to help him with tracking, and his favourite cougar dog  was a small black collie/spaniel mix named ‘Dick’ who was owned by his brother Horace, a trapper. Cecil was only 18 when he first saw Dick, and apparently, it was ‘love at first sight.’

Cecil discovered from the very first that although not trained to be a cougar dog, Dick did all the right things. He simply was the perfect cougar dog; incredibly smart, fiercely loyal, and mostly obedient. Cecil wanted to buy him, but Horace wasn’t interested in selling him.

There is one particularly entertaining story about Dick. Horace had gone to the wharf to board the steamship to Vancouver, and Dick, who had followed him there, tried to board as well. Horace had to keep sending him back and asked a friend to keep an eye him. Dick stayed and watched the steamship until it was out of sight, then slipped away from Horace’s friend. When another steamship arrived at the dock, Dick snuck aboard, thinking Horace would be there.

Dick didn’t find Horace; instead he ended up about 50 miles north of Black Creek at a logging camp. Once the dog realized he was in the wrong place, he tried to get back onto the ship, but was prevented by a watchful deckhand. In the meantime, a donkeyman logger, Billie Doty had been observing the dog’s antics, and eventually succeeded in coaxing Dick home with him. The dog lived with Billie for about six months, then one day, a friend of Cecil’s visiting the logging camp happened to see him. He called Dick by name, and the dog responded immediately.

Billie kindly brought Dick back on a steamship the following month and delivered him to Cecil. Cecil returned the favour by giving Billie one of his young trained cougar dogs. He then determined that he would finally get Dick for his own. He told his brother about the story of Dick’s recovery, and said he wanted to buy him. Horace refused again.

Cecil then said that Horace could have his dog back once he paid him the $70 he owed him. This strategy worked; Horace never did retrieve his dog and the debt was considered paid.

Man and dog were nearly inseparable until Dick died at the age of 13. It is said that as a pair they successfully hunted over 120 cougars.

Many of Dick’s descendents also worked as cougar dogs over the years.

Other intriguing animal stories and exclusive photos from the Museum at Campbell River’s collection are on display in the temporary gallery until March 30.

A charming calendar produced by the Museum as an accompaniment to the exhibit is now on sale in the gift shop.

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