El Gato Negro?

Event: sighting
Species: unconfirmed

Tonight I went to the town named for these cats, Los Gatos, to take a run up to the reservoir.  I had just about enough time to get up and back down before dark.  Signs at the highschool indicated the beginning section of the trail would be closed for weeks beginning the next day, so it seemed divine providence that I managed to squeeze my run in tonight.
I'm out of shape, so I alternate running and walking on these outings as I rebuild my fitness, the slow zebra in the herd if you will indulge me.  I haven't been up here much this year, but this was the 4th time in as many weeks as I push myself to regain fitness.  A fair number of people were walking, running, or biking the wide dirt trail.  I tried not to look into the bushes or otherwise act paranoid when I passed by those coming down; still given my history I did keep my eyes open.
Coming back down was a joy as I knew today I was a little bit stronger, and I really got into my gait as the last couple mountain bikers flew down the hill past me, leaving me with no human company in either direction for a mile or two.  Coming a round a corner I saw that I was wrong, for there was someone's big black labradour dashing into the brush on the creek side.  
When I saw that there was no dog owner around, no human activity at all, that something-isn't-right-alarm rang.  The animal I'd seen, the one somewhere in the brush to the right of me, was not a domesticated animal.  I edged to the other side of the trail, jangled my keys, and kept running.  I tried to keep my full wits about me and get out of the area quickly without leaving a blind spot.
I have encountered a dog before in such a situation and I found that dogs are dogs.  I would expect a dog to come out of the brush and either attack me or confront me, quite possible to stand in the middle of the road and threaten me, but never to hide and watch me.
Hiding, watching, tracking; stealth and the attack you never see coming: that's a cat.  The animal getting running into the brush would have looked like a black panther, if I my mind had not expecting to see a dog, but big black cats don't exist in California.  They don't exist.  I repeated that to myself a few times and found no comfort in it.
I jangled my keys for another half mile wondering if an attack would come and from what side, looking back a few times to keep any cat honest and off the trail.  For the first time this year I ran the trail all the way back to the car without stopping.  Not because I was unnerved, just because I felt fitter, honest.
Here's what Naturealmanac.com says about the existence of black cougars in California:

Many species of large cats have dark (melanistic) color phases that crop up occasionally in wild populations – notably leopards and jaguars – but no example of a melanistic cougar has ever been produced in North America. Some South American populations of cougar have been reported to produce melanistic individuals but concrete evidence of this seems to be lacking and these animals may be a different but similar species of cat that is mistaken for a cougar.

 

Large black cats have been reported in North America since earliest colonial times (long before the importation of alien species) but none have ever been shot or captured. At the time of first contact jaguars ranged as far north as Georgia and Arkansas and these animals do produce melanistic individuals but of course it's highly unlikely that they ever occurred in New England where many of the early reports of black cats originated. So unless there's another species of large cat roaming North America that somehow managed to avoid discovery for the last four hundred years reports of these animals must be based on optical illusions or tricks of light.

 

More recent (20th century) reports of large black cats are most likely black panthers (melanistic leopards) that have either escaped captivity or been released by owners unable or unwilling to care for them. It's significant that reports of black cats increased markedly (at least in Illinois) after the laws concerning ownership of wild cats changed in the 80's. Most recent sightings of these animals seem to describe feral leopards rather than cougars.

We'll call this one: sighting-uncertain; species-unknown; observer-paranoid, and maybe you can put it out of your mind.  I can't, and you'll understand why when you hear of my prior encounters.

Posted via email from Cougars You Can’t Buy a Drink

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