Camping Couple Relates Mountain Lion Attack
California State Fish and Game authorities called off the hunt for a mountain lion Tuesday night (May 5) after a Wildomar, Calif., man whose dog was injured by the lion revealed that the cat likely acted in self-defense.
“It doesn’t look like the lion was interested in the dog as a meal,” said Fish and Game Lt. Dan Sforza. “It was just defending itself. We have a policy to determine if this is a public safety threat and I am not classifying it as that.”
The incident happened around noon Tuesday, according to the Orange County Register. William and Candy Morse had been camping at El Cariso Campground. They went for a hike on a trail at Falcon Campground, next to Blue Jay Campground north of Ortega Highway. The campground was closed, but the couple hopped the chain. They were walking near the restroom area with their 5-year-old Queensland Heeler/Labrador mix Hoggie.
Morse, 41, was ahead of his wife when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a mountain lion crouching near the restroom, about 40 feet ahead.
Hoggie jumped between Morse and the mountain lion, which Morse estimated at double the dog’s size. According to Sforza’s interpretation of Morse’s account, both animals seem to have spotted each other at the same time. The lion started to run off and Hoggie ran after it. Then, Sforza said, it appears the lion turned back and attacked the dog, grabbing him by his underbelly and ripping him open. Morse raised his hands in the air, trying to make himself appear larger, and ran to Hoggie’s side.
The mountain lion ran off.
Morse picked up his dog, carried him to the couple’s Chevrolet convertible and drove to a nearby Cal Fire station to report the attack. Then he and his wife raced to Clinton Keith Veterinary Hospital in Wildomar.
Hoggie was in surgery for more than four hours Tuesday afternoon. Dr. Julia Schoellenbach operated on the dog and said she expects him to recover. He was released to a tearful Candy Tuesday night.
“He saved our lives,” Candy said, crying. “I just want to take him home and put him to bed.”
The couple lives in an RV, and Hoggie “usually sleeps in the shotgun seat, but tonight I’m going to make up the other bed in the back.”
William Morse missed the reunion because he had gone to Falcon Campground to show Sforza and other officials from the U.S. Forest Service where and how the incident happened. Morse hopes his experience will serve as a warning to other hikers. “I’ve been going out to Blue Jay for 21 years, and this is the first encounter I’ve ever had,” he said.
Falcon Campground will remain closed and Blue Jay Campground will be closed for a few days as a precaution, Sforza said.
The two campgrounds are “smack dab in the middle of lion country,” Sforza said. “It might be different if we were tracking a lion a mile outside of Mission Viejo.”