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Did Hoagie start the fight with mountain lion?

The dog's owner says it defended him from a cougar's attack and got mauled for his heroism. But wildlife specialists say evidence suggests Hoagie might have attacked the lion first.

May 07, 2009|David Kelly

Is Hoagie a hero or a hapless mutt who happened to pick on the wrong cat?

That depends on who's telling the story.

William Morse said the black shepherd mix he rescued from the pound saved his life Tuesday by intercepting a charging mountain lion in the Cleveland National Forest -- and got badly mauled.

"I went toward the bathroom and a mountain lion came out and attacked us," he told reporters on the day of the incident. "It got to my dog first and chewed him up. He's a hero, man, I love him to death. Man's best friend prevailed."

But state wildlife officials threw cold water on that account Wednesday, saying further investigation indicates that the inspiring story of canine derring-do may have been overblown.

Two game wardens searched the Bluejay Campground in the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange County and interviewed Morse. Based on the evidence, they say, Hoagie attacked the mountain lion, not vice versa.

"The report we got was that the dog went up to a mountain lion and the mountain lion ran away and the dog chased it and was mauled," said Harry Morse, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

"We went out there and didn't find any evidence of a mountain lion. They didn't find any tracks or hair," he said. "That's not to say it wasn't there."

Wildlife officials normally hand down death sentences for dangerous mountain lions, but this one was acquitted for lack of evidence.

"If a mountain lion attacks a human being or attempts to attack a human being, we treat that as a public safety incident and we have to destroy the animal," said Kevin Brennan, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist. "That's not what happened here. We are not actively searching for the mountain lion in question."

And because Morse was with his wife at the time of the incident and lions usually attack solitary individuals, Brennan doesn't think that the dog's owner was ever in danger.

Morse, of Wildomar, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Cleveland National Forest closed the Blue Jay and Falcon campgrounds until Friday to put up signs warning people to watch out for cougars.

Despite his injuries, officials believe that Hoagie actually may have gotten off lightly.

Clashes between mountain lions and dogs often end much worse. The cougar might well have had a Hoagie for lunch.

In this case, none of the mountain lion's behavior struck experts as out of character or dangerous.

"The dog chased it and was mauled," said Fish and Game's Morse. "This was just a lion being a lion."

--

david.kelly@latimes.com

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