LAKE PLACID - For Samantha Lee, Lola, her small Chihuahua, turned out to be a big hero.
If it wouldn't have been for Lola essentially running away from her, a black bear would have likely attacked her, Lee said.
Lee said that by telling the story of her dog being killed by the bear, she's hoping it will make people more aware of the potential dangers from bears in Highlands County.
"I hope and I pray the bear doesn't attack someone else," she said.
Lee said the incident occurred around 6:45 a.m. Wednesday morning when she opened her door to let her dogs out and Lola ran outside. She then noticed a black bear outside a few feet from the door beginning to chase Lola.
She said Lola came towards her and the bear started coming closer. That was when Lola started off in another direction and the bear "took its focus off me and ran toward Lola," she said.
The next morning, she said, her husband found Lola's lifeless and bloody body in nearby woods.
Lee said she shudders at the thought her daughter could have been the one who opened the door to let Lola outside. Since that morning, she said, her daughter has been afraid to go outside.
She and her husband had seen the bear a couple of times before the incident and were told by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission the bear did not present a hazard and that it was afraid of humans.
They were advised to make sure they did not leave trash outside, she said.
But, Lee said, she hadn't been leaving garbage outside uncovered or food that may attract a bear, she said.
Lee said she doesn't believe what she was told about the bears being afraid of humans.
Hours after the incident, she said, they saw the bear again and her husband yelled at the bear to get it to leave.
"The bear just stood there and looked at him," Lee said.
Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said he's unaware of any previous bear attacks on humans or dogs in Highlands County.
"By and large bears are not a threat to people," he said.
It's when bears see human habitat as an area where they can food that problems have occurred, he said.
Morse advises people to not feed bears and to not leave out trash, bird seed or cat or dog food when bears are present.
Recently, he said, reports of bears came from the north part of Highlands Park Estates. "Now we're getting reports of multiple bears in the south portion."
Lee said in view of the situation she hopes others won't lose their dogs.
"Me and my husband heard the final yelps of our dying dog," she said.