updated 05/16/2014 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 05/16/2014 AT 10:00 AM ET
Erika Triantafilo says that while Tara the hero cat had never been quite so heroic before this week – famously body slamming a neighbor’s dog who viciously attacked her 4-year-old son Jeremy – she was not completely surprised by Tara’s protective actions.
“Tara has known Jeremy since before he was born,” Triantafilo says. “She used to go on walks with us when I was pregnant. And she used to check in on Jeremy when he was in his crib. They’re great buddies.”
Tara is a 7-year-old stray who, when not saving the day, prefers the tranquil life, staying mostly indoors, relaxing under the Bakersfield, Calif., family’s dining room table.
“She’s usually very quiet around the house, taking catnaps,” says Triantafilo, 27, a stay-at-home mother of three boys.
“The boys play with her, sometimes getting a little rough with her. Never once has she hissed at them or clawed at them. Never once has she shown anything but love and affection towards my kids.”
Tara came into the family’s life six years ago, when Erika and husband Roger were returning home from a walk to a nearby park.
“Tara followed us,” says Triantafilo. “We’re like, ‘Okay, kitty cat, you need to go back home now.’ But she never left. And we’re so thankful that she didn’t.”
Though in the dog attack Jeremy sustained severe bites to his leg, resulting in 10 stitches, his mother says he’s already recovering.
“He’s doing great,” she says. “Little boys are absolutely made of rubber. They bounce back so quickly.”
Triantafilo was familiar with the next-door neighbor’s dog, having seen him outside on numerous other occasions. But it had never bothered them before.
“We’d been out in the yard before with the children when it was out and we never really paid attention to it and it paid no attention to us,” she says.
After the attack, the owner’s dog turned it into Animal Control officials. According to Triantafilo, the animal might be spared and returned to its owner if they agree to have it rehabilitated.
“The dog owners were quite helpful when it happened,” says Triantafilo. “They were the ones to call 911. And the wife stayed with me until the ambulance came and helped put pressure on my son’s wound. They came back over yesterday – husband and wife – and very sincerely apologized. It’s a bad situation for both families. We’re neighbors.”
Though over the past few days Tara has gotten tons of love – but, as of yet, no offers for endorsement deals or commercials – Triantafilo thinks her cat is just assuming everything is back to normal.
“She’s not quite used to all of this attention,” she says. “I think she’s happy to have her quiet house back. We did let her sleep in bed with us. But we haven’t given her any salmon dinners or anything.”