Local News

Wednesday, May 14 2014 08:22 PM

How Tara the cat gained international fame

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Four-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo looks out of the window at his home in southwest Bakersfield with his cat Tara Wednesday. The cat became a hero when a dog attacked Jeremy in his front yard on Eagle Vista Drive in Bakersfield and Tara came out and chased the dog away. Jeremy needed stitchea for severe bites to his leg and his mother, Erica, also needed medical aid from bites she sustained while protecting her son.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    A cat that was stray in 2008 ended up being an instant hero for the Triantafilo family when it chased away a dog during an attack of 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo on May 13.

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    A dog, reportedly an 8-month-old male Labrador-Chow mix, makes its way around the front of a southwest Bakersfield house Tuesday in this screen shot taken from video. The dog later goes on to attack 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo. This image was taken from surveillance video provided by the boy's dad, Roger Triantafilo.

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    The dog, reportedly an 8-month-old male Labrador-Chow mix, approaches 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo outside his southwest Bakersfield home. This image was taken from surveillance video provided by the boy's dad, Roger Triantafilo.

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    The dog begins to attack 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo on Tuesday outside the boy's southwest Bakersfield home. This image was taken from surveillance video provided by the boy's dad, Roger Triantafilo.

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    The dog, reportedly an 8-month-old male Labrador-Chow mix, appears to grab and pull on 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo on Tuesday. This image was taken from surveillance video provided by the boy's dad, Roger Triantafilo.

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    The Triantafilo family cat, Tara, appears to slam into the dog, reportedly an 8-month-old male Labrador-Chow mix, and push it away from 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo. This image was taken from surveillance video provided by the boy's dad, Roger Triantafilo.

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    Tara the cat runs off the dog, and seems to make sure it goes away, after the dog attacked 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo. This image was taken from surveillance video provided by the boy's dad, Roger Triantafilo.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Just 48 hours ago, Tara the cat was an unknown housecat.

Today, Tara is, well, her owners have been interviewed by "Good Morning America" -- and you may already have glimpsed her on "TMZ," which called her a hero and urged visitors to its website to watch security camera footage of her rescue, pleading, "Ya gotta see this!!!"

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TRIBUTES TO TARA

Tara the cat is receiving lots of kudos on our Facebook page. Read the tributes to the cat, and add your own.

https://www.facebook.com/BakersfieldCalifornian

Tara's video was filmed by her home's eight security cameras, edited by her owner Roger Triantafilo and posted to the Internet Tuesday evening.

It got all this started.

But unlike virtually everyone else found on TMZ's website, her owners didn't set out to be famous.

"I was just simply going to update everyone on what had happened. I didn't expect them to share it or anything else," said Triantafilo's wife, Erica, who like Tara ran after the dog attacking her 4-year-old son, Jeremy, and was herself bitten. "In fact I told my mother at one time I don't even want to post anything."

As her owners watched the as-yet unedited video on Tuesday, however, they realized their pet, a former stray, had done something remarkable.

"And then we saw how brave the cat was and I edited the video just to show that," Roger Triantafilo said, explaining how he and a Bakersfield police officer reviewed the raw footage as they waited for an animal control officer to arrive. "We were watching it and it was just amazing, like 'Holy crap!' We both had the same thought -- 'Look at that cat go. Jesus!'"

Initially, others were not bowled over.

"I went to sleep and I think at that time two, maybe three of my friends had shared it. I woke up to, I think it said it was shared over 70 times," Erica Triantafilo said.

When the media discovered it Wednesday morning, those numbers skyrocketed, and suddenly everyone had to share it or tweet it, say a few words -- or interview the Triantafilos.

By Wednesday night, serious media from Taiwan to the Netherlands had linked to the story and commentators were posting away.

Actor-director George Takei of "Star Trek" fame shared the video on Facebook, and by nightfall Wednesday more than 87,000 people had liked it.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin tweeted about Tara early Wednesday evening and used one of two popular hashtags that summed up what everyone was thinking.

Hers was #herocat, although #NinjaCat was a popular variant.

Roger Triantafilo went to work briefly Wednesday, but came home as it became clear his family was not exactly anonymous any more.

"From 8 o'clock on, we've been getting calls nonstop. My husband's work said, 'This is insane, we've been getting flooded'" with calls, Erica Triantafilo said.

"They found me on LinkedIn or something," Roger Triantafilo said.

The Triantafilos faced Bakersfield's three television channels, a Californian reporter and photographer, and by early afternoon they and Jeremy sat down with ABC Network News Correspondent David Wright, who drove up from Los Angeles with his dog Siba, a Belgian Shepherd.

Wright, his news organization's website points out, has been to Iraq more than a dozen times, won an Emmy for reports from the Middle East -- and even followed President Barack Obama on the campaign trail in the early days before Obama secured the Democratic nomination.

Jeremy had been dragged by the leg down his own driveway just the previous afternoon by the dog that attacked him -- but he gamely went out to meet Siba before Wright's interview.

Bakersfield police Sgt. Joe Grubbs -- whose agency had fielded calls from Canadian news media and the New York Times -- had a theory on why the story took off.

"It's kind of got the perfect combination of events -- a small child is attacked and a cat saves him," Grubbs said. "That's kind of the opposite of how it normally happens. And there's a happy ending. Kind of tugs at our heartstrings a little bit."

Jeremy's father said this is what security cameras are made for -- in a way.

"Honestly, this is what it's made for. Not necessarily for this, but for catching what did happen," Eric Triantafilo said. "You really want to know if something happens how did it happen."

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