Many dog owners would do just about anything for their pet, expecting nothing but cuddles and goofy looks in return.
But earlier this week a dog nearly killed him to save his owner from a rare mountain lion attack on a hiking trail in Northern California.
Erin Wilson, 24, a waitress, had just jumped out of her truck at a roadside picnic area and was heading for a path leading to the Trinity River, when she heard something in the bushes.
“I’m walking down the hill and the dog had run in front of me. And I turn around and there’s this cat growling right after me and it gets up and slides on top of me,” she said. “At first I was like, wait, what? And I think I screamed and I screamed for Eva and she came running.”
Eva is Wilson’s 2.5 year old Belgian Malinois. The breed is very intelligent and agile. The dogs are bred for self-defense and often used as police dogs. If they don’t have work and space to move around, they become neurotic.
Wilson describes the breed as “a German Shepherd on steroids, crack, or cocaine. They’re just driven dogs, a little crazy. If they have nothing to do, they’ll destroy their surroundings,” chewing or digging.
But in that desperate moment at the picnic area by the river, Eva’s canine instinct kicked in. She came running to protect a member of her pack who had just been scratched by a wild animal and attacked the cougar.
“They argued for a few seconds, but he got her pretty quickly,” Wilson said, in an interview from the backroom of his restaurant.
She said the mountain lion looked skinny and desperate, but she doesn’t want to portray him as a villain in her story. She thinks he was hungry because the dry conditions make it harder to hunt deer, his favorite food. He was just doing what he evolved to do. She acknowledged that at around 115 pounds, she was easy prey.
Capt. Patrick Foy, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife game warden investigating the incident, said cougar attacks on humans are highly unusual because the animals are so shy.
“Most of California is mountain lion habitat. But it’s really, really rare for that to happen. I’ve seen just a handful over the years, in my 25-year career,” said- he declared. “We don’t recommend people change their plans to get out and recreate in nature.”
But once the cougar put its jaws around Eva’s neck, the 55-pound dog was in trouble.
“If you look very closely at the anatomy of a lion’s skull, it’s incredibly well suited to create significant crushing power,” Foy said. “That’s how they kill their prey. They usually grab onto the head or the neck and just crush that prey to death. That’s unfortunately what happened to poor Eva the dog.”
After the initial shock of being scratched by a mountain lion, Wilson began throwing rocks to get the cat to drop the dog.
“My battle mode kicked in and I started picking up rocks and kicking his skull as hard as I could,” said Wilson, an outdoor enthusiast who has lived in Alaska. “I didn’t even feel it then. I knew how to choke him, go get his eyes, hurt him.”
Then she raced up the bank to her truck, grabbed a crowbar and waved to a passing motorist, Sharon Houston, to help her. When Wilson returned, the cougar had dragged Eva several feet into the bushes.
Houston grabbed a PVC pipe from her trunk. Together, she and Wilson yelled and kicked the lion until he freed the dog and retreated. Eva jumped up and ran down the road, and Wilson piled her into his van.
During the hour-long drive up a winding mountain road to the vet, the dog began to convulse and Wilson realized his beloved companion’s injuries were serious and life-threatening.
“That’s when I started to really pick up the pace,” she said. “I definitely passed a bunch of people in double yellow. I didn’t give anything away.”
Eva’s skull and jaw were fractured and her eye was swollen. She spent almost a week recovering in a veterinary clinic. She did not need surgery but could lose sight in her left eye.
Wilson set up a GoFundMe to cover vet bills. The story was written by a reporter on a local blog and then picked up by The Sacramento Bee. Soon donations began to pour in, far exceeding what Wilson and her husband needed to cover Eva’s recovery costs.
Eva came home Thursday night with a new dog bed and stuffed animals, which Wilson says she’ll probably tear apart as soon as her jaw heals. The chef at Wilson’s Restaurant saves a prime cut of beef for when Eva is ready to enjoy it.
“I kinda blame myself for all that. Thanks to her, I’m unharmed and because of me, she has two skull fractures and she could be blind,” Wilson said, explaining that she’s still dealing with what happened. could have happened to his beloved companion, an animal who had his own Instagram account, even before his heroic deed.
“I knew Eva was capable of being fierce and protective. I never thought she would have to answer the call like that. Really hug your dogs, people. Hug your pets, hug your family.”
Fish and Wildlife staff swabbed Wilson and Eva’s wounds for saliva samples, which confirmed it was a mountain lion attack, Foy said. The game wardens and their partners are busy trapping the animal.