Tails of Heroism
Poppy—An Amazing Story of Heroism
(as witnessed by Dr. Art and Joan)

Poppy isn’t a racing donkey.  She’s proven  to us year after
year that her competitive streak was obliterated by her large
liver-colored spots, and winning a donkey derby ranks low on
her bucket list.  Until a few days ago, that fact defined her
otherwise low-stress lifestyle, where her days are spent
roaming the pasture grazing with her loosely-knit group of
goats, sheep, and Rocco the pig, with whom she shares
manure-spreading duties.  Suddenly, after what happened in
the pre-dawn darkness of that night, we see her differently.

Joan and I sleep outside in the summer, on a small deck
overlooking our backyard.  The night started out no differently
than others—a star-studded sky and a pesky waning moon
that was still so bright in the early hours that it had startled us
awake for the past week or so.  This night, however, it wasn’t
the moon, but a desperate cry from one of our animals in the
direction of the barn that brought us upright in our bed.  Two
more equally distressing cries from what sounded like
Rocco being skinned alive, and I had grabbed my headlamp
and, still in a dream-induced fog, clumsily jumped the
pasture fence, losing my footing and landing in a large
manure pile, before racing in the direction of the cries.  The
majority of the 10 motley critters that comprise our herd were
grouped in a tight cluster, and their multiple pairs of eyes
reflected back at me like tiny headlamps of their own before
darting back toward what they were witnessing.  I followed
their gaze to reveal in my light beam a mountain lion holding
fast to the nose and upper jaw of our favorite goat,
Buttermilk.  She was still very much alive, and hanging onto
the edge of a small pond from which the big cat was trying to
extricate her.  Buttermilk, at 130 lbs., was somewhat larger
than the lion, and her hindquarters were mired in the muck of
the pond, while her forelegs were braced solidly against the
upsloping bank.  The cat was on his hindlegs with his
forepaws on either side of the goat’s neck, pulling with all the
power of his massive hindlegs.  Clearly the struggle was at a
stalemate, and my yelling and arm waving was not shifting
the balance in the slightest.  As I considered my vanishingly
short list of options, into the light emerged Poppy, charging
the attacker and bellowing with all the might of her 600 lbs.  
She got within inches of his face, and blasted him with a
honking cacophony of extreme donkey noises that I thought
would  have awakened the entire neighborhood.  When that
failed to yield any response from the cat, however, she
became even more enraged, and started circling with a tight,
rocking-horse cadence, kicking with front and rear hooves
repeatedly, all the while keeping up her war-whoop, until
finally the lion let loose and considered retreat the better
option.  He raced off in the direction away from me, much to
my most heartfelt relief, and after hesitating to look back for a
breathless second, leaped over the 6-foot fence as
effortlessly as our housecat  Farrah jumps onto the washing
machine for her dinner.  Poppy had won!

My initial assessment of Buttermilk was that her nose had
been ripped off.  Blood had coagulated so thickly over her
muzzle that it wasn’t clear how much of her face was left
intact, and within seconds of her release she had raced to
the opposite end of the pasture from where the cougar had
disappeared into the night.  After some searching, we found
her shaking and bleeding, but remarkably still in one piece,
and determined that her wounds consisted of multiple, but at
least for now nonlethal facial lacerations and deep
punctures.  Amazingly, all of her parts were still where they
were supposed to be.  We cleaned her wounds as best we
could before closing her in with the chickens for the last
couple of hours before dawn.  The possibility of sleep for us,
and no doubt for her, was remote, but it was still only 4:00
am when we returned to bed to await the first light of
morning, not sure whether we had really witnessed what we
had, or whether the beating doled out by our courageous little
donkey had convinced the big cat to seek other pastures for
now at least.
We were relieved to find Buttermilk still alive the next
morning, and she has continued to improve each day.  She
and Poppy seem to have a newfound vitality to their
relationship, and Poppy waits nickering at the gate when
Buttermilk comes home from the clinic each day with her
wounds freshly treated and healing.  Fortunately, all the
critters seem to be much more compliant about going into
the barn at night now.  Poppy and Buttermilk stand beside
each other at the feedbunk, with no balking over who has
access to the hay.  They seem to be happy just to have a best
friend to share with.