I tracked alongside the cougar as she paced back and forth in the cage and positioned the collar over her head just as I had been shown.  My palms sweated, and my heart rate soared as I realized the gravity of being alone in a small room with a wild cougar. No protective gear.

My life flashed before me as I contemplated the question: “How dumb are you?”

My journey into a cougar’s den started the weekend before my first semester of college. I had planned to attend Texas A&M, but my brother asked me to go to the university where he was enrolled. He seemed unhappy at the time, and so I agreed.

I moved in the Saturday afternoon before classes began, although my dad warned me that most students wouldn’t be there until Sunday afternoon. Indeed, the dorms were a ghost town. I was alone in the room until late afternoon when my suitemate Charlotte* arrived. Immediately she invited me to a party that evening. I accepted.

Entrepreneur Anita Joyce Cedar Hill Farmhouse Round Top HoustonWe left the city lights behind and headed into the deep woods. It occurred to me that I didn’t know Charlotte or her boyfriend well, and in this pre-cell phone era, my mind began conjuring visions of bodies thrown in the woods.

After at least an hour’s drive, we arrived at a solitary house where music was blaring and several beer kegs waited. I relaxed becoming fairly certain Charlotte and her boyfriend were not axe murders. They introduced me to everyone. Many of them belonged to the Cougar Guard, an organization that took care of the college mascot.

They all encouraged me to join the guard, and I thought, “Why not?” I had an instant group of friends.

Later, it was decided all guard members needed to be able to collar the cougar, so each of us had to enter the cage alone with the cougar and place the collar on her neck. Davy*, who kept a snake bite kit on him at all times, told me that a cougar bite stayed purple long after it healed. As proof, he nodded his head toward Sally,* who was on crutches. The purple bite scar was very visible. Sally offered “comforting” information: Her tendon was seriously damaged, but not severed, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.

It was around this time that my number came up. Putting the collar on the cougar was a tricky operation since it required hand placement right above her head. At just the right moment, one pivoted the collar down and over her mouth and around her neck. Then one could tighten the collar so it was snug.

My colleagues warned me the cougar usually tried to bite the hands that held the collar and advised me to anticipate the bites and swing the collar down quickly in between the snaps. As the cougar and I walked back and forth in the cage, I wished I had chosen Texas A&M with its fluffy, friendly collie mascot named Reveille.

The guard members watched me through the glass as I looked for my chance to slide on the collar. Many thoughts swirled in my head, but mainly I wondered, “How do I get out of here alive without severing any tendons?” I wasn’t sure what a tendon was, but I was pretty certain I didn’t want any of mine severed.

Finally I found my courage, placed the collar on her neck and fastened it in place. I attached the two leads to her collar and opened the door. I was shaking, but I did it. I came out alive with tendons intact—and a taste of real fear in my mouth.

photo by Anita Joyce


Tips for Decorating Bravely
Some people fear making decorating mistakes, but after surviving a trip to a cougar’s den, I know that fear isn’t justified. Most decorating mistakes don’t involve trips to the emergency room or permanent, purple scarring.

Mistakes are how we learn, and many decorating mistakes are reversible. When learning something new, it’s important to know when you get it right, but it’s also important to know when you get it wrong. Sometimes you learn more from making a mistake than getting it right from the beginning. When you make mistakes you learn from them because these lessons usually stick.

Go ahead and try new things. Move things from one room to another. Buy several pillows, try them all and keep the ones that work. If you adore an original piece of art, buy it. It might not work where you need artwork, but you’ll find a place for it.

photo by Anita Joyce

Big ticket vs. small ticket items. When it comes to small ticket items such as pillows, throws and accessories that are easily returned, I have no problem making mistakes. I always learn something. My suggestion is to take a picture of your work each time you make a change to a room. People usually notice things in photos that they don’t in person.

Big ticket items such as appliances, flooring, countertops or lighting are a bit trickier. I like to be fairly certain they will work before I pay a professional to have them permanently installed in my home.

Now go have fun, but seriously, stay away from the big cats.

*Some names were changed


article and photos by Anita Joyce