A family dog died a hero protecting four children from a mountain lion in their backyard.
On June 14, Virginia Havens of Idaho Springs, Colorado, was cooking dinner while her children, ages 11, 8, 7, and 4, played in the backyard and their father, Daniel, cleaned the car.
Suddenly, their 2-year-old dog Lady, a pit bull-Chihuahua mix, started barking aggressively in the yard.
"I heard my husband screaming, 'Get in the house now' and my kids crying, 'Wolf!'" Havens, 37, told TODAY Parents, adding that she ran to her front door. "I had a surreal moment where I thought, 'Am I seeing what I think I'm seeing?'"
Feeling out of the loop? We'll catch you up on the Chicago news you need to know. Sign up for the weekly Chicago Catch-Up newsletter here.
A "huge" mountain lion, which Haven estimated to be at least five feet long, was facing Lady.
According to Havens, Lady charged at the lion and the animals started fighting while the family ran inside.
Havens wanted to run back to help Lady, but it was too dangerous, so she fled to her daughter's second-floor bedroom. There, she opened the window and hurled a pair of pink roller skates at the cat, to distract him from the bloody scuffle with Lady.
U.S. & World
"I was frantic and my kids were crying," said Havens, who called 911 from the house.
Officers arrived within five minutes and fired three non-lethal bean bag rifle rounds, two of which hit the lion, forcing it to retreat into the mountains.
Idaho Springs Police Chief Nathan Buseck told TODAY Parents that animal-on-animal attacks do not require the use of lethal force, although a responding officer was prepared to shoot the lion with a rifle had the family been in danger.
Lady survived the 20-minute fight and as she trotted toward the house, Havens was hopeful, despite her injuries.
"She was bloody and had a hole in her skull," recalled Havens. "As she got closer, I could see her right eye bulging and she had labored breathing."
Havens scooped up her dog and wrapped her in a towel. The family drove to Evolution Veterinary Specialists, an animal hospital nearby.
Lady was taken into triage, where doctors said her outlook was dim.
"She had three holes in her skull and the underside of her snout was punctured, which is why she couldn't breathe well," explained Havens. "Doctors couldn't guarantee she'd live through the night."
The Havens family made the devastating decision to put Lady down.
"Doctors gave Lady pain medication but she was whimpering uncontrollably," said an emotional Havens, adding that she had prepared her children for Lady's "owies."
"The kids were in a puddle of tears but seeing Lady like that also helped them understand the reason to let her go," said Havens. "We said goodbye and kissed Lady and thanked her."
Havens said park rangers informed her family that the lion wouldn't likely return because it didn't make a kill.
According to the Native Animal Rescue shelter in Santa Cruz, Calif., once lions kill their prey, they eat the carcass until full, then bury the rest. After a fasting period, they return and continue eating.
Havens is comforted by the unlikelihood of the cat returning, but she's wary about allowing her children to play in the yard as they have for the past nine years. According to Buseck, it's not uncommon for a mountain lion to enter a residential yard, although bears tend to be a larger problem in the area.
While Lady will never be replaced, the family has welcomed another dog into their home: a puppy named Boaz.
A photo of Lady is now mounted on the Havens' wall.
"Lady was our little angel," said Havens. "She was a warrior."
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY: