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Nanci Bliss-Kelley, Colorado Woman, Shoots Gun For First Time In Her Life In Defense Of Her Dog From Mountain Lion

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A Colorado woman was startled to find her beloved dog Tilly being attacked by a mountain lion in the backyard of her Evergreen home and was forced to use a handgun in hopes of saving her dog's life -- it was the first time she'd ever shot a gun in her life.

CBS4 was the first to report on Richard and Nanci Bliss-Kelley and their beloved tripawd Chesapeake Bay Retriever "Tilly" who had a life-threatening run in with a local mountain lion.

When Nanci came home to an empty house on the evening of January 9th, she heard two unusual things that she hadn't heard before -- one, her dogs, both tripawds that the couple adopted from Rocky Mountain Lab Rescue, were not happily barking at her arrival and two, an odd growling and banging noise coming from her yard. The noises, and lack therof from her dogs, struck terror into Nanci who described her feelings on Facebook:

The adrenaline is still pumping through my body. Got home at 5:30 tonight and the house was pitch black both inside and out. Husband wasn't home and no barking dogs. I walked up the steps and heard an odd noise coming from around the corner where our fence begins. I can't describe it except to say that is was a mix of the fence banging and some growling. I immediately called Richard and in a terrified voice, asked him if he had both dogs. Nope, just Tripp. That means that Tilly was in trouble. I screamed at Richard over the phone asking if the gun was loaded and all I had to do was point and shoot. Yup. So I went outside with our wimpy flashlight and the gun calling for Tilly. Nothing. Sucked up the courage and went further and there he was. I was stunned. I shot the gun but of course missed. I have NEVER shot a gun before in my life. Still calling for my girl and screaming obscenities at the lion. Walked around to the other side of the house where I had heard the noise knowing full well that the cat was there. Well he was off in the distance and I stood firm again and shot the gun not expecting to hit it. I'll find out in the morning if I did. Richard was home by now and he took the gun and with a second flashlight we continued to look for the lion and our doggy. Lo and behold, there was Miss Tilly, sweet, sweet, Tilly with her body outside of the fence and only her head inside. And her tail was wagging like mad. She was alive. To make a long story short, she is at the vet. She has 20 puncture wounds on just one side of her. The worst on her side and her neck but they feel pretty good about her chances. She was not in shock and not bleeding profusely. Richard's shirt and pants are covered with blood.

Nanci was panicked, but knew what she had to do, she told The Huffington Post -- get her husband's gun and fire at the animal that was attacking Tilly. "I very quickly summoned the courage to go outside and began screaming Tilly’s name," Nanci said. "That and an assortment of obscenities at the mountain lion!"

"I made my way to the top level of the deck and looked over in the direction of the noise and saw the cat’s eyes. I pointed the gun and shot. I’ve since found out that the gun, a .44 Special, is not meant for long distance shooting but I didn’t know that at the time. I just shot. I still couldn’t find Tilly as she is a dark chocolate brown and blends into the darkness," Nanci told The Huffington Post.

After firing her weapon, Nanci then returned to the house to make way to the front corner where she had heard the growling and banging noises when she first arrived home. When she finally made it to the area, she saw the cats eyes again, but this time up the hill from her home. "This time, I remembered that I was supposed to close one eye and aim, which I did and shot again."

By this time, Nanci's husband was home and the two of them went around to the deck again calling for Tilly -- Richard saw Tilly's tail going up and down and called out to Nanci that she was alive.

As it turned out, 70-pound Tilly was stuck in the fence when the attack occurred, her body was outside of the fence, while her head was still inside of it. It was dark out and the extent of Tilly's injuries were not clear to Nanci and Richard, but they could see that their hands were covered in blood as they worked carefully and quickly to free her from the fence without hurting her further.

Photos of Tilly's injuries (Story continues below slideshow):

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Tilly's Run In With A Mountain Lion
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But to the couple's surprise, once freed, tough Tilly just got up and walked to their home's front door. But the dog was most definitely injured so Nanci acted fast calling Evergreen Animal Hospital which took the dog in.

Tilly had 30 puncture wounds that required 20 stitches from the Evergreen veterinarians, but after two nights in the hospital and now a month of recovery, Nanci says that 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," Nanci said. "It cracks us up!"

Nanci was so relieved that the gunshot scared off the mountain lion but joked about her marksman skills to The Huffington Post. "The next day my husband found one bullet in our deck post!" Nancy said. "It traveled about 4 feet before imbedding in the post! I have no idea where the other bullet went. We live on two acres surrounded by several uninhabited acreage so I had no fear of hurting anyone with a wild shot. Had the mountain lion approached me, I at least had a gun to kill it. I don’t want to mess with one up close and personal!

Nanci said that the incident had caused her and her husband to make some adjustments in their own behavior with their beloved tripawds. "The dogs are out now only during daylight hours and we escort them in the morning and evening," Nanci said. "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."

Nanci also had advice for anyone living in the various neighborhoods of the foothills and mountains, saying that not all neighborhoods are alike. "Our former neighborhood had bear, elk, and deer and we never worried for our safety," Nanci said. "With that mindset, we moved a few miles away into a area of more rocky terrain that is a draw for mountain lions. We just didn’t know. Probably best to contact Department of Wildlife to obtain information on a new area."

Firing a gun for the first time can be a powerful experience and Nanci says that it has made her appreciate the right to own a gun, an object in her home that before this incident she had zero interest in. "When I heard the noise that night, it felt great to know that I -- not my husband -- but I could grab the thing and protect my home. I had to ask my husband if it was loaded. I still wouldn’t know how to check or how to load it. But it feels good to know that it is there if we need to use it."

However, Nanci also says that this hasn't turned her into a "rabid gun owner," as she describes it. "I like having a gun in the house to serve as protection but I still see zero need for semi-automatic guns. No need for a citizen to have such a weapon. I am distressed at the culture of violence in our country and see a wide chasm between the two sides when actually the solution seems so reasonable. Nobody is trying to take your weapons. Get over it. Let’s make it reasonable and responsible. As my husband says, 'A gun is no more than a tool. As with a hammer, it can be abused if used incorrectly.'"

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Nancy Bliss-Kelley « CBS Denver