Larry whistled to the dogs as he opened the gate and gently pushed the chocolate-colored goat he had named Cocoa into the pen with the milling hounds. The sad-eyed dogs began inspecting the newcomer, from her long ears to her switching tail. Cocoa nuzzled and licked the hounds in return. Then she trotted around the pen, nibbling and smelling everything. Finally she jumped on top of the doghouse and settled down with a bored look on her long face.

Larry bought Cocoa as a companion for his hunting dogs, hoping they would chase coons as they had been trained to do instead of deer when they became used to this deer-like creature. The animal soon forgot she was a goat and followed the dogs everywhere. But Larry’s best dog Tina was soon to have pups, and he worried about how Cocoa would treat them. He put Tina in the barn as a precaution when the time neared for her pups to be born.

One morning in late winter, the dogs were fretting in the barnyard. Larry saw Ringo and Ace walking to and fro in their pen, whining. He pulled on his coat, jammed on his hat, and hurried across the yard to the barn, his breath making small clouds in the cold air.

The bed he had made for Tina was empty! Then Larry turned and saw a nervous and tense Cocoa. She lowered her brown head and threatened him as he tried to go farther into the barn. He was puzzled by the unusual behavior of the gentle goat until he heard the cries of Tina’s newborn pups. Then he understood that this was Cocoa’s way of protecting her friend.

Later that morning, Larry again went to the barn. This time Cocoa allowed him to get on top of a pile of hay where he could look down and see Tina with her new family.

In a few weeks the puppies were toddling about the farmyard. The littlest one, named Topper, became Cocoa’s favorite.

By midsummer all of the puppies but Topper were sold. No one wanted the runt of the litter except Cocoa, who took the gangling puppy everywhere she went.

Cocoa and little Topper were together as usual one summer evening when Larry came upon them. “Well, old girl,” he greeted her, “how is your little charge tonight?”

Cocoa replied with a gentle baaaa and nudged Topper to a faster pace.

Then late one fall afternoon, Topper and Cocoa were alone in the barnyard when a cougar came slinking into the yard. It moved so stealthily that its belly almost hugged the ground, but periodically it crouched motionless to stare at the unwary Cocoa. The creature’s small ears were held close to its large tan head and its long tail made graceful sweeping motions.

Cocoa slowly chewed her cud until she caught the scent of the animal. Fear widened her eyes as she turned and saw the mountain lion staring at her.

Cocoa’s heart pounded and her legs trembled with fear. She gave one pitiful bleat as the large cat moved forward slowly, seeing nothing but the fat, tender goat. The cougar crouched to leap after the shivering Cocoa, growling and swallowing with anticipation. Suddenly out of the barn hurtled a brown and white blur. Little Topper was enraged that the creature had frightened Cocoa and he lunged straight for the cat.

Distracted in its pursuit of Cocoa, the fearsome animal snarled furiously and shook the feisty little dog from its neck.

Cocoa was jarred out of her panic by Topper’s painful yelp and hurled herself at the surprised cat. She struck the tawny body with a great thud.

Stunned by the impact, the big cat wheeled, and Topper leaped on its back, seizing a mouthful of hair and hide. The cougar, hampered by the dog and unaware that Cocoa was preparing her second attack, received a vicious blow in its side. Growling, the intruder finally shook the snarling dog from its back again and made a wild dash for the meadow.

Little Topper and Cocoa gave chase, bellowing their anger with every leap. When they were assured that the cougar was gone, they returned to the farmyard and met Larry running toward them. He quickly examined the cut and bleeding Topper. “Don’t worry, old girl,” he told Cocoa. “I don’t think your little friend is badly hurt, mostly just some deep scratches.” He dropped a gentle hand to smooth the long ears of the worried goat.

After Larry had cared for both animals, he started for the house. He had not gone far when he heard Cocoa bleat softly to little Topper, and he smiled contentedly when an answering woof came from her defender.

Illustrated by Don Seegmiller