08/24/2010 at 04:00 PM EDT
They say a dog is man's -- or woman's -- best friend. And never was this made more clear than early last Wednesday morning when Princess, a five-year-old pit bull/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, was stabbed multiple times as she tried to protect her owner from a violent boyfriend.
"I feel like she's my hero," Marie Wells, 31, of Southbridge, Mass., tells PEOPLEPets.com. "If she hadn't been there, I don't know what could have happened. [My boyfriend] snapped."
Wells says Princess began nipping at her boyfriend, Eric Reyes, 30, after the couple got into a heated argument in their apartment around 1 a.m. on Aug. 18. Reyes allegedly reacted by grabbing a 12-inch-long, serrated-edge kitchen knife.
"It all exploded from there, [with] him slicing [the dog]," says Wells. "I didn't know if he was aiming at Princess or at me. I was screaming for him to stop. She was in between me and him the whole time, barking. She was doing a great job of protecting me. Wherever I moved, she was there right with me."
Thanks to calls from Wells' neighbors, who overheard the fight, police arrived quickly. They found Reyes on the apartment's porch, holding a towel to Princess's wounds and apologizing. "He was saying he was sorry and that he loved her," says Wells.
The dog sustained three major stab wounds and numerous puncture wounds. "Even after the dog backed off and was cowering, he slashed her a couple more times and stabbed her," says Chief Daniel Charette of the Southbridge Police Department. "She was coughing up blood. It was heart-wrenching."
Police immediately arrested Reyes, who was released Monday on his own recognizance pending a court hearing on Oct. 8, says Timothy Connolly, a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. Reyes pleaded not guilty to charges of animal cruelty, assault and battery, violating a restraining order, and other charges, says Connolly. He faces up to five years in state prison for the the animal-cruelty charge alone. Thomas Connors, Reyes's attorney, did not return PEOPLEPets.com's calls seeking comment.
Princess, meanwhile, is on the mend. After being rushed to Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, she underwent several surgeries before returning home last Friday. "As soon as she saw me she went crazy," says Wells. "I consistently tell her in a baby voice, 'I love you, you're such a good girl.' She turns around in a circle, wagging her tail, and sits right in front of me."
Wells and Reyes – who dated for 12 years and are no longer together – got Princess when she was just 8 weeks old. "She is wonderful with children, she's never bitten anyone," says Wells. "She's extremely playful, and her best friend is our cat. They are adorable together."
Wells rewarded Princess's bravery by presenting her with a huge, fluffy bed which she has placed next to hers. "She will not leave my side," says Wells. "She used to follow me [sometimes]. Now she even comes into the bathroom with me. She is by me 24/7." Tell us: Can your pet sense danger? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!See more heroic animals on PEOPLEPets.com: Dog Hero! Pit Bull Saves His Family From IntruderDog Eats Owner's Big Toe – and Saves His Life