Chino Valley resident Brandon Arnold killed a rabid mountain lion with a frying pan, and he has witnesses to prove it. Arnold, 24, his girlfriend Tessa Gerdes and seven of their Chino Valley friends, including three children, were camping on May 4 at a remote spot on the Tonto National Forest, near the Verde River off Bloody Basin Road, when the story of a lifetime unfolded. They were getting ready to make breakfast at about 6:45 a.m. when a large animal jumped out of the bushes onto the back of Arnold's dog Apollo, a 90-pound lab-pit bull mix.
"It was hard to tell what it was when it jumped out of there covered with grass and smelling like a skunk," Arnold's friend Donald Jones said. "I thought it was somebody's dog, so I was just pissed off somebody brought a mean dog to camp." Jones grabbed the neck of both the animals to try to pull them apart. That's when they all figured out the other animal wasn't a dog. Jones let go real fast. "I started screaming at the top of my lungs, 'Holy (bleep), it's a mountain lion!'" Arnold recalled.
The lion ran into the mesquite bushes and Apollo ran after it while the men frantically looked for the nearest weapon. Jones grabbed a camping table and Arnold grabbed a 14-inch cast-iron skillet heating up on the propane stove. Arnold got to the lion and dog fight first and did what he had to do to save Apollo. "The first time I had a clear shot I just swung the pan and hit him right on the head," Arnold said. "It was like a cartoon - he just kind of stopped and I hit him again. He got stiff and fell over." He hit it several more times, then another friend shot it a couple of times just to make sure it was dead.
Figuring only a rabid lion would act like that, they contacted the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The positive rabies results came back on Monday. Amazingly, no one besides Apollo was scratched, or they'd have to get expensive and painful rabies shots. Apollo already had his rabies shots. He suffered gashes and scratches but they weren't life-threatening. He has to stay in quarantine at home for 45 days. "Everybody was lucky," Jones said. "Even the dog was lucky. We'll never win the lottery because we used up all our luck right there." The group continued their camping weekend, although they moved to a site with fewer bushes around it.