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Chelsea Bromley and her son Zach are shown in this undated handout photo.HO/The Canadian Press

The father of a seven-year-old boy who was attacked by a cougar in a small lakeside community on Vancouver Island is crediting his wife’s quick actions for their son’s survival.

Kevin Bromley said his son Zach was playing in the family’s backyard in Lake Cowichan, B.C., on Friday, when a cougar leapt toward him but bounced off a metal fence before clawing its way through the barrier.

“You can see all the claw marks of it pushing its way through,” he said.

Zach tried to run away but the cougar pounced. He was lucky the animal was small and Zach was wearing a hoodie, Mr. Bromley said, because it protected his neck and Zach “turtled” his head during the struggle.

Bromley said his wife, Chelsea, heard the fence rattle and looked out to see the cougar trying to drag her son away. She jumped down the back steps and charged the animal, fighting to make it release her son’s left arm.

“She’s so selfless, she had to get its mouth off of Zach. She literally did and I’m not glorifying it, I’m just saying this is what happened – she had to pry its mouth open,” he said.

She gave out a “hard cry” and the cat finally let go and ran away.

Zach is recovering with gashes to his head, neck and arm that have been stitched, but Mr. Bromley said he expects the mental recovery may take longer. The typically gregarious and “happy-go-lucky” boy seems to have grasped the gravity of what happened.

“This was a pretty near-death experience for him. When a kid is seven, that stuff doesn’t typically come to your mind.”

Zach is spending time at the home of his grandparents, who love to dote on him, Mr. Bromley said.

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The family is Christian, and Chelsea, who cried out for help during the struggle, is “adamant” that she wants to give God credit, Mr. Bromley said. They also wanted to thank all of the emergency responders and hospital staff for their quick and kind response.

Sergeant Scott Norris of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service said investigators secured the attack site and found two juvenile cougars 20 metres away. Both cougars were euthanized and investigators are testing their DNA to confirm one of them was responsible for the attack.

Sgt. Norris said it’s very uncommon for cougars to attack humans and it’s most likely that the young animals were learning to hunt and fend for themselves without the guidance of a mother.

“Normally a mother teaching them would teach them to be leery of humans. Our guess is that the mother wasn’t around,” he said.

In case of a cougar encounter, Sgt. Norris said you should never turn and run.

“You back away slowly, make yourself look big. If a cougar approaches you, you want to be very aggressive with them and let them know you’re not prey,” he said.

Cougars live near human populations across British Columbia and the B.C. Conservation Officer Service website has further tips on wildlife encounters.