Jan 5, 2010 10:47 AM by Mike Celizic
The 11-year-old boy didn't have time to react - and barely enough time to realize that a cougar was flying toward him with dinner on its mind. Luckily for Austin Forman, his dog, Angel, threw herself between her best friend and a lethal predator.
Never was a dog more appropriately named than the 18-month-old golden retriever who nearly gave her life to save Austin Sunday in Bar Boston, a small Canadian town some 150 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
"She was my best friend, but now she's even greater to me. She's more than a best friend now," Austin told TODAY's Matt Lauer Tuesday morning from his home, where he was joined by his mother, Sherri Forman, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable Chad Gravelle, who shot the cougar and saved Angel.
"We're really lucky that he was saved by an angel. That's exactly what it was. There's no other word for it," Jay Forman, Austin's father, told NBC News.
Around 5:30 Sunday evening, Austin went out with a wheelbarrow to bring in wood to feed the family's wood-burning furnace. At that hour at that northern latitude, it was already dark.
Angel went along with Austin, and the boy found it curious that instead of playfully galumphing around the yard as she normally did, the dog stayed close by his side. He would shortly learn that there was a reason for her actions.
Austin was a few feet from the woodshed when he saw the cougar, which he first assumed was another dog. Although cougars inhabit the surrounding forests, they usually stay away from towns.
There was a light in the backyard, and when the animal got under it, Austin saw it was a cougar getting ready to pounce from less than 10 feet away. But just as the animal leaped, Angel came to the rescue.
"The dog knew something was up, because she ran toward me just at the right time, and the cougar ended up getting her instead," Austin said. "I was just lucky my dog was there, because it happened so fast I wouldn't have known what hit me."
The cougar clamped its jaws around Angel's head. Frantic, Austin screamed for his mother and ran inside the house, yelling, "There's a cougar eating Angel!"
Sherri Forman looked out the window and saw the cougar on the patio with Angel's head in its mouth. It didn't look good for the heroic pet. Angel, Sherri said, was "whining and making noises like we've never heard before. We knew that cougar was killing our dog."
She called her father-in-law, Lloyd Forman, and he told her to call 911.
Boston Bar is a small town of fewer than 1,000 people about 150 miles outside of Vancouver in British Columbia. It's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody else, and that applies to Constable Chad Gravelle, who was finishing up the day's paperwork when he got the call at his office less than a block away from the Forman home.
The 911 dispatcher told Gravelle that a cougar was attacking a young boy. When the constable took down the address and family name, he knew immediately that the boy could only be Austin Forman.
He rushed to the home, thinking that Austin's life was in danger. When he arrived, "One of their daughters ran out on the porch and said, ‘Hurry up, Chad, the cougar's got our dog,' " Gravelle said. "At that point, I was a little bit more relieved that Austin was OK because I know he's the only young boy in this house. Now we only had to deal with the dog."
Gravelle drew his sidearm and went out the back door. He saw the cougar's tail extending out from underneath the porch. Although he had a flashlight, it was dark and hard to see, and Gravelle was dealing with a deadly animal in a confined space.
"The dog and the cougar were all kind of tangled up as one unit," he said. But he was able to see the big cat's hindquarters and fired one shot, hoping to sever the animal's spine.
When the cougar kept up its attack on Angel, Gravelle moved around to get in front of the cougar, which was less than 6 feet away.
"It was really dark out, and I was just trying to line up my shot as best I could. I could just see about two or three inches of the cougar's head sticking out from behind Angel, and luckily I was able to get a good shot off," Gravelle said.
"Without him, there's no way Angel would have survived," Sherri said. "The sounds had all stopped, and it was just a matter of seconds. The timing was perfect."
The shot killed the cougar and missed Angel, but the cat still had its jaws around the dog's head.
Austin's cousin, Travis Comkin, was also at the house, and he went to help Angel.
"The cougar had its mouth over the top of the dog's mouth, trying to suffocate it, blood all over the animal," Comkin told NBC News. "And out of nowhere, the dog breathed a gasp of air, just like it comes back from being dead, and just spits up blood. And I'm looking at her, and I'm holding her, and I'm like, she's going to be all right."
From being all but dead, Angel went back to romping around the backyard, her head covered in blood. The Formans took her to a veterinarian, where she was treated for extensive - but not life-threatening - injuries.
"She had surgery yesterday afternoon," Sherri told Lauer. "She was in for about an hour in surgery: extensive injuries to her head. Her skull was fractured, and they had to piece it together along with numerous other wounds. We're hopeful for a full recovery."
Angel was expected to return home as early as Tuesday to a hero's welcome and a thank-you present purchased especially for her by her best friend.
"I bought her a big, nice juicy steak," Austin told Lauer.