The dog ran limping through the woods, panting. His instincts did not let him rest, despite the ache in his paw and his exhaustion. He was not a dog who was used to physical exertion. In fact, if you had seen him earlier that morning, you would have seen a complacently fat, contented (not despite the fat, but because of it) beagle living in the lap of luxury.
But now here he was- a hunted thing, desperate to escape the mountain lion running behind him. If the lion had not been wounded, she would surely have caught up to the beagle by then, but, luckily for Casey the beagle, this mountain lion had been wounded back in town where the chase had begun.
Casey had been enjoying his morning. The sun was shining, his owner had given him some dried turkey, and all he had to do was lie around, protecting the stoop as usual. It was a sweet deal, and he knew it. He barked at the occasional car that parked nearby or pedestrian who walked down the sidewalk. Even the barking didn’t take much energy, and it was really all for formality anyway. No one had ever actually tried to hurt him or his owners before, so he just barked out of instinct, not a real sense of danger. He also barked because he felt it was his job. How else was he going to earn the glorious canned food, human leftovers, or treats he longed for? All animals had jobs to do and he was just happy his was so very easy.
A strange smell startled Casey out of his happy contemplations. He sniffed cautiously. It was a wild smell, the smell of an animal who had never lived inside, who was thoroughly feral. The hair rose on his back as he heard the low growl of an animal he had never before encountered: a giant tawny cat, staring at him, stalking him, and barreling down towards him like a locomotive flying towards a car stalled on the tracks. Casey bolted to his feet, wide girth and all, and yelped, as he ran away from his stoop into the street and huddled panting, beneath a car where he began barking as loud as he could. The mountain lion batted at him with her huge padded paws, while her eyes gleamed sinisterly.
There was soon a flurry of activity as humans began to come out of their homes to see what the commotion was about. Casey could hear yelling and screams. Several men ran for their guns and began advancing on the big cat who had mistakenly stumbled into a residential neighborhood to hunt for easy prey. The cat began to back away from the car, hissing at the humans advancing on her. Casey thought he saw a safe chance to get away from the lion and bolted away from the car back towards the safety of his house. Unfortunately, she saw the motion of his running form and lunged after him, snapping at his paws. Casey felt the bones in his back leg crack and cried out in pain. He kept trying to run, but the big cat would have easily overpowered him had not one of the men with the guns taken a shot.
Blinded by pain and fear, Casey began running. He lost all sense of direction as his instincts took over and he ended up plunging into the woods near the neighborhood, with the mountain lion pursuing. The two wounded animals crashed through brush and trees and over hills and streams. Casey could hear the angry spitting and yowling of the big cat behind him and the humans pursuing the cat with their guns.
Suddenly Casey came to a rock wall. Sheer and high, he knew he couldn’t hope to scrabble up the rock face. He ran from side to side, looking for a way up or a hole to hide in, but there was no escape. He turned to see the lion bearing down on him, teeth ready to grab him by the throat. He turned and stood his ground, barking his fear out in the last few moments before he was sure he would die. For a moment, the two animals stared at each other- a hungry mountain lion and a brave beagle locked in the usual life and death struggle of predator and prey. There was no anger or malevolence in the lion- just hunger and instinct. And Casey was not angry with her- he understood that perhaps this was to be his place in the circle of life- food for another bigger, stronger animal. With that thought came a measure of peace for the beagle. After all, every animal had a job to do, and sometimes you were the eater, and sometimes you were the meal. Though the thought gave him peace, and he understood what was about to happen, he could not help but feel grief at the thought of dying. He very much wanted to live.
The mountain lion leaped towards Casey, but right before she made contact with his vulnerable throat, a shot rang out through the trees and the lion fell dead in a tawny, muscular heap at his feet. Astonished and still barking his shrill, loud bark, Casey looked up to see the men with their guns arrive. They fired a few more shots into the now-still body of the lion and knelt to inspect her.
“Can someone take this poor dog home?” One of the men asked. Casey was relieved to see his owner walk out of the trees toward him. He limped up to his owner and licked his hand, grateful to see the familiar face.
“Poor Casey. She got you good, didn’t she? I can’t believe this happened to us. I am going to get you home and take care of you.” The owner scooped up the exhausted beagle and began walking back to their neighborhood.
Later that evening, Casey lay in his dog bed, his broken paw splinted and bandaged, enjoying the warmth and comfort of his home. His ordeal was over and he could get back to the spoiled existence he was used to. But sometimes, when there was a full moon or something to bark at, he thought back to his chase with the mountain lion and his brush with death. And he felt that he really was more of a true dog for the experience. He held his head a little higher and ate his food with just a little more gusto.