In the dark of night, Colorado School of Mines’ own Nanci Bliss-Kelley experienced a mountain lion attack. Fortunately, Nanci was not the victim. Her dog, Tilly was not as lucky, yet Nanci was able to save the dog’s life thanks to her quick thinking and bravery.
Nanci has worked at Mines for over six years, and recently moved into a new house in Evergreen. The new area is known for mountain lion activity, but Nanci and her husband Richard have been “busy with settling in, as well as a deck renovation,” to aptly prepare for mountain lion risks.
Last January, Nanci was returning home at about 5:30 pm one evening. Richard had been out scouting for ice fishing locations. He usually takes both of their dogs, Tilly and Tripp. Tripp is a yellow lab, and Tilly is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Both dogs are adopted from Rocky Mountain Lab Rescue, and both are tripawds, the correct term for three-legged dogs.
Nanci and Richard have had the dogs for around a year and half, however, this canine-human relationship could have been cut short when Nanci heard “the fence banging and growling outside,” just after she had flipped on the inside lights. “The sound is difficult to describe, but I knew it was bad. My blood went cold, and I ran to the phone to call my husband.” This area is known for spotty cell phone service, “so I was grateful I was able to get a hold of Richard.” After Nanci found out that he had only taken Tripp with him, she knew she had to save Tilly. Richard reminded her that there was a loaded handgun in the house, and Nanci rushed to get it. “It was a weird feeling holding the gun. I had never shot a gun before,” said Nanci. “After I rushed up the steps, I saw the eyes of the mountain lion out near the fence.”
“I held up the gun and shot once, not really aiming, but making sure I wouldn’t hit Tilly. We live on two acres surrounded by several uninhabited acreage, so I had no fear of hurting anyone with a wild shot. I was just trying to scare the lion away.” Nanci said she was “surprised by the smell of gunpowder; it reminded [her] of the smell of cap guns,” she said. Holding a tiny flashlight and the pistol, Nanci spotted the mountain lion’s eyes once more, this time far away on the hill behind their house. “This time, I closed one eye and shot, again, not expecting to hit it,” said Nanci. At this point, Richard had returned home and the two split up to look for Tilly. Richard found her near the fence. Tilly’s head was stuck under the fence, with her body on the outside. “We saw her tail moving, so we knew she was alive. Richard and I put our heads together to figure out how to carefully move her without hurting her. We ended up not needing to do so because she got up and walked to our front door as soon as she was free.”
Upon close inspection, they found bite marks around her head and neck, as though the mountain lion had gnawed on her. Tilly was rushed to the emergency veterinarian that night, and experienced a swift recovery from her 30 puncture wounds and 20 stitches. Nanci humbly accepts the fact she saved her dog’s life, and even received a unique gift from the whole debacle. “Richard actually found one of the shell casings; and put it on a necklace for Valentine’s Day,” said Nanci. “I wasn’t afraid that night.” Nanci did what was difficult, but necessary to protect her family in a time of need.
Nanci also took this event as a learning experience, and used it as a means to better her community. “Our takeaway from this was to, of course, adjust our behavior. The dogs are out now only during daylight hours. We escort them in the morning and evening. We still walk them without leashes as they struggle enough to walk as tripawds. But we keep them very close. I also created a Google group for the neighborhood. This serves as a way to keep the neighbors united, despite being separated over so many acres. We can keep each other informed on wildlife sightings, fire alerts, and other safety concerns. Had this been in place at the time of the attack, I could have warned the neighbors.” Thankfully, Tilly “is doing just fine. The only lasting behavioral change is that she now sticks her head through the dog door and lets out a big WOOF before exiting. It cracks us up!”