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Excerpt: A Dog’s Courage by W. Bruce Cameron

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#1 New York Times bestselling author W. Bruce Cameron once again captures the bravery and determination of a very good dog in the gripping sequel to A Dog’s Way Home, the acclaimed novel that inspired the hit movie!

Bella was once a lost dog, but now she lives happily with her people, Lucas and Olivia, only occasionally recalling the hardships in her past. Then a weekend camping trip turns into a harrowing struggle for survival when the Rocky Mountains are engulfed by the biggest wildfire in American history. The raging inferno separates Bella from her people and she is lost once more.

Alone in the wilderness, Bella unexpectedly finds herself responsible for the safety of two defenseless mountain lion cubs. Now she’s torn between two equally urgent goals. More than anything, she wants to find her way home to Lucas and Olivia, but not if it means abandoning her new family to danger. And danger abounds, from predators hunting them to the flames threatening at every turn.

Can Bella ever get back to where she truly belongs?

A Dog’s Courage is more than a fast-paced adventure, more than a devoted dog’s struggle to survive, it’s a story asking that we believe in our dogs as much as they believe in us.

A Dog’s Courage will be available on May 4, 2021. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


One

I was enjoying the sort of nap that, as a dog, I had long ago mastered: sprawled out on sparse grasses, my nose filled with  the fresh smell of trees, ears barely registering the small noises of birds and other rustlings. Sleeping outside near my boy, Lucas, his scent giving me an overall sense of his presence, is one of the most wonderful things to do on a lazy afternoon after a walk in the mountains. I was drifting on well-being, happy to be alive.I was enjoying the sort of nap that, as a dog, I had long ago mastered: sprawled out on sparse grasses, my nose filled with  the fresh smell of trees, ears barely registering the small noises of birds and other rustlings. Sleeping outside near my boy, Lucas, his scent giving me an overall sense of his presence, is one of the most wonderful things to do on a lazy afternoon after a walk in

Lucas shared my contentment; I could tell by his relaxed breathing. He was sitting drowsily in the sun with his dog and his Olivia.

So I was startled when all of a sudden, tension jolted him. I instantly popped open my eyes and lifted my head, blinking away the sleep.

“Nobody move,” he urged. I glanced over at him, but then turned my full attention to what I could suddenly smell: a cat, fe- male, a big one, somewhere close, lurking in the bushes. The feral odor was unmistakable.

For a moment I thought it might be a very particular mountain cat, one I knew as well as any animal I had ever met or smelled, but I quickly realized that no, this was a stranger, a new intruder. She wasn’t moving, so I didn’t spy her at first. Then she shifted slightly, and I saw her. She was stocky and powerful and larger than the cats who lived in the house down the street, almost bigger than any cat I had ever seen. Her head would easily reach my back. She was spotted, with alert ears held high and a rabbit dangling from her mouth. I could smell the rabbit as strongly as the wild cat.

So, no, this wasn’t any animal I knew, though she did bring to mind a mountain cat that was much larger than this one.

The cat and I locked eyes, frozen. Lucas and Olivia were both motionless and tense, but not afraid. “Do you see it?” Lucas asked in the barest of whispers.

Olivia stirred. “I’ve only seen one other bobcat in my whole life. This is so cool!”

Lucas nodded ever so slightly. “It’s beautiful.”

I was still staring at the cat and the cat was still staring at me. It was the type of moment I often share with squirrels, when we’re both immobile, right before one of us bolts and the chase is on.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to chase this particular animal, though. “I’m going to reach for my phone,” Lucas murmured. “Get some video of this. Bella, no barks.”

I did not understand why my boy would tell me No Barks when I wasn’t barking, or making any noise at all. I noticed his hand creeping ever so slowly, but it was movement enough to remind the big cat that she had other things to do than just stare at two people and their wonderful dog. With motion as quiet as Lucas’s whisper, she turned and was quickly in the bushes and gone, though her powerful smell lingered long after she vanished.

If I were going to give chase, now would be my moment. But I did not want the cat, or her rabbit. I had not yet been fed dinner, and did not want to be off in the woods pursuing wild creatures when it was presented.

“Amazing, that was amazing,” Olivia enthused.

“I’ve never seen one before. Wow,” Lucas agreed. “You know, I used to camp all the time and I never came across anything but elk. But with you we’ve seen bears, that eagle, a mountain lion, and now we can add a bobcat to the list.”

“You’re saying I’m good luck.”

Lucas grinned at her. “I’m saying that now that I’m with you, maybe I notice more of what’s good about life.”

“That’s sweet.” I wagged.

“Why do you suppose it came so close to our campsite?” Olivia asked. “What does it mean?”

“Mean? What, like a sign, or an omen? A message from the cat gods? I don’t think it needs to mean anything. It was just a wild animal checking us out.”

Olivia shrugged. “It’s just pretty unusual behavior for a felid. Humans are really their only natural enemy.”

“Felid!” Lucas howled. He crawled across the grass to Olivia and pulled her onto her back, laughing at her. “What the heck is a felid?”

Olivia was smiling up at him. “It’s  just a name for  a wild cat.    I was showing off that I know some words that my brainy doctor husband doesn’t know. And it is almost an omen to see a bobcat sneaking up on people instead of the other way around, don’t you think?”

“Maybe it wasn’t stalking us at all; maybe it wanted to get a  look at Bella. Our canid.”

I wagged at my name.

“Canid! My husband is so smart.”

“My wife is so smart. So, okay, what else about bobcats?”

“I know they’re territorial, like mountain lions. If a female is in her territory, she’s queen and nobody messes with her. But if she accidentally wanders into another female’s range, it’s open sea- son. She goes from predator to prey. Sort of what would happen if some nurse tried to flirt with handsome Dr. Lucas Ray.”

Lucas laughed. “I still don’t think Felid the Cat was an omen.” I had the sense that they were talking about the cat and the rabbit, but I didn’t feel motivated to pursue it into the trees. My place now was with my people, my Lucas and Olivia. We lived together in a house with a room to sleep in, a room to eat in, and a room where all the food was kept, called “kitchen.” Sometimes I would lie on the floor of the food room, just to drink in the wonderful smells.

I never know why, but on occasion Lucas packs things into a car he calls “the Jeep” and drives us up into the mountains. On those nights we sleep in a single, soft-sided room Lucas and Olivia would temporarily erect near the vehicle. That’s what we were doing now.

Not long after the wild cat ran off with her kill, Lucas opened some packets and made dinner, an action I found to be a very positive development.

They sat in chairs Olivia unfolded. While I watched attentively for dropped food items, my thoughts returned first to the cat with the rabbit, and then to how her appearance had instantly brought to mind a much larger cat, one with whom I had spent many, many days and nights in these same mountains. Though she grew to be a huge creature, I always thought of her as Big Kitten, because she was a kitten when I met her.

Lucas tossed me a piece of dinner. As I deftly snagged pieces of food out of the air, I realized how the feral odors of the wild cat were more imagined than actually sensed, now that she had faded into the woods with her rabbit. That’s what happens in the mountains—it isn’t that a dog can’t find a particular odor out there, it’s that there are so many other smells competing for the primary position in the nose. I gave up trying to track her—she was long gone. In fact, after a time, I was back to reflecting on Big Kitten, calling up the memory of how she smelled when we curled up for sleep together, the snow coming down on both of us in a soft blanket.

Often when I am sprawled at my boy’s feet at night I will ponder how different my life is now that I am back with people. For a time, I was a dog who hunted and roamed the trails with a giant cat, and didn’t sleep on beds, or get fed dinner twice a day. I was often hungry and afraid, but my companion and I survived. Big Kitten and I were a pack through two winters, relying on each other.

I usually thought about Big Kitten whenever Lucas and Olivia took me up into the mountains, because it was in the mountains where I first encountered her.

When I found Big Kitten she was smaller than the she-cat I had just seen with the rabbit, and she was alone. Her mother had recently died because of something two men had done to her. That’s what I concluded as I sniffed the mother cat’s lifeless body sprawled in the dirt, because there had been a loud bang- ing noise and the two men were running toward me, shouting excitedly to each other. The powerful odor of fresh blood clung to the mother feline’s motionless corpse, and the air still carried the sharp tang of an acrid smoke that was growing stronger as the men thrashed through the woods, headed in my direction. I was tensed and ready to flee when I spotted the baby cat watching me from the bushes.

I decided in that moment that the big kitten hiding in the bushes, though larger than any adult cat I had ever seen before, was the baby of the gigantic cat who lay dead and bloody in the sand.

I needed to protect her from the bad men. I had the sense that whatever they had done to the huge cat to kill it, they would do to the big kitten, and probably to me as well.

Over time, I became Big Kitten’s mother cat. In a way it was a natural role for me, because when I was just a puppy, long before I met Lucas, my mother dog was taken from me by a different set of bad men, and I wound up living under a house with a family of cats. My littermates were kittens, and their mother was my mother.

This lasted a short time, until Lucas took me home, and then I lived with people instead of cats.

I taught Big Kitten how to hunt. She and I went for long, long walks together because I was a lost dog. I had been separated from Lucas, my person, and was making my way home to him. Big Kitten came with me. Along the way, we fed together, and Big Kitten grew until she was much larger than me.

I loved Big Kitten, but I loved being a dog to Lucas even more. So as I did Go Home, Big Kitten remained behind in the wilds, watching me walk away from her, out of the mountains and toward the smells and sounds of a big, open city with cars and many, many people.

As I left Big Kitten and descended toward the streets and buildings and traffic, I couldn’t separate my boy’s smell from the countless human scents on the air, but I could sense him, feel him, and I knew I would be able to find my way home to him.

I never saw Big Kitten again, but it was not hard to imagine, as I drifted off to sleep many nights, that she was right there next to me, keeping me warm, keeping me company: the best animal friend I ever had.

Often when we took car rides in the Jeep, ranging along bouncy mountain roads, I would thrust my nose out into the wind and concentrate on trying to find her, searching for a single whiff of cat to let me know she was still alive. Thus far I had been unsuccessful, but Lucas always found new places for us to stay, and I thought it likely I would one day see my dear friend again.

I looked forward to that.

Lucas and Olivia were eating chunks of meat, but they did not neglect a good dog like me. I was dazzling them with my Sit. That one always works.

After dinner, Lucas and Olivia and I crawled into the small room where we slept when we were on Jeep car rides. This was our second night and, if past behavior was any guide, we would soon be driving back home to sleep on our bed inside our house.

I didn’t mind where I slept, as long as I was with my boy. I fussed to get the soft blankets just right, but eventually settled  in between Lucas and Olivia. As I did so, a warmth rose up from within me, because I was with the people who loved me and I loved them. Since the moment I first met Lucas, I knew the two of us belonged together. The reason I never gave up on my long trek back home was because I was his dog. On my travels I met several people who were nice to me and wanted to take care of me, but there was only one Lucas.

As often as I dreamed of Big Kitten, I dreamed of my boy, running with me, or feeding me treats.

Not long after Lucas zipped the door closed, I heard some- thing rustling in the plants outside in the night and raised my head and gave a low warning growl.

“Bella, no barks, okay?” Lucas murmured sleepily. “Lucas, no snores, okay?” Olivia replied.

Lucas chuckled in the dark. “I’ve read that wives often pretend that their husbands snore, just so the poor guys will feel guilty.”

“I’ve read that when men snore, their wives will dump water on them just to make the poor guys feel wet,” Olivia countered.

Lucas propped himself up on an elbow. “You snore sometimes and I’ve never complained.”

“That’s because your snoring drowns mine completely out.” “Well, see how lucky you are?”

Olivia laughed. “This thing you do where you pretend to be really dumb is pretty funny.”

“Glad I amuse you.”

“Maybe sometime in the future you could pretend to be smart. Like for my birthday, maybe,” Olivia teased. “Just one day. The rest of the year you can go back to playing dumb.”

They were grinning at each other. Lucas reached over me and touched Olivia’s shoulder, and I wagged because his arm was rest- ing on my back. “Hey.”

“Hey what.”

“I love you, Olivia Ray.” “I love you, Lucas Ray.”

I heard a rustling sound and growled again. “Bella, no snores,” Lucas intoned.

“No snores, Bella,” Olivia agreed.

I wondered what they were telling me.

“I have a surprise for you tomorrow,” Lucas remarked after a long moment of silence.

Olivia stirred. I opened my eyes but didn’t otherwise react. “Surprise? What is it?” she demanded.

“Well, clearly, I can’t say—that’s the nature of a surprise. Surely someone has told you that before.”

“Does it rhyme with ‘whirl wecklass’?” “Go to sleep, Olivia.”

“How about ‘wuby wing’?”

Lucas laughed. “Go to sleep. You’ll find out tomorrow.”

 

Copyright © 2021 by W. Bruce Cameron

Pre-order A Dog’s Courage—available on May 4, 2021!

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