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A security camera captured a Florida panther killing a pet cat in a Golden Gate Estates driveway in June 2018. Video submitted by Madeline Lopez. Naples

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Madeline Lopez was at work Sunday morning when she received an alert on her phone from her motion-activated home security system.

A livestream from a camera monitoring her Golden Gate Estates driveway began to play.

Her gaze fixed to her phone screen, Lopez watched helplessly as a Florida panther chased down her beloved cat, River, pinned her to the concrete, dug its teeth into her neck and hauled the squealing feline away.

"I went into panic mode. I started crying," Lopez recalled. "I couldn't believe what I was watching."

Related: FWC offers tips on how to stay safe from panthers

    Estates family mourns the loss of pet cat, River

    Lopez knew her three children and dog were at their house on 68th Avenue Northeast, so she frantically tried to reach her husband, who was also at home.

    After witnessing the gruesome attack, she needed to make sure the rest of her family was safe.

    "That was my main concern," said Lopez, 34.

    Although their 5-month-old American bully, King, had started barking, waking up her husband, Lopez said, "he had no idea" what had happened until she sent him the video of the attack.

    Their two girls, ages 10 and 9, and 5-year-old boy were fast asleep.

    No one else was hurt, but the family's pain over the loss of their pet is still fresh.

    "It's a little traumatic," Lopez said.

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    'Queen of the house'

    Lopez met the once feral cat a couple of months ago when she started showing up where Lopez works. Because the cat was just skin and bones, Lopez wanted to take care of her and started befriending and feeding the cat, before eventually taking her in.

    "I saw that she needed me," she said.

    Her children, who had been wanting a cat for years, quickly embraced River, Lopez said. She would wander to her daughter's room and meow to be petted.

    "She became the queen of the house," she said.

    River also liked to be outside, Lopez said.

    Lopez used to walk her dog around the neighborhood and would walk her children to the bus stop during the week. Had the panther stalked their front yard on a weekday, Lopez said, the family might have run into it.

    "That would've been tragic," she said.

    Things are different now.

    "Now I'm more cautious," she said.

    She now walks her dog in her fenced backyard, on a leash. She drives her kids to the bus stop in the morning. She wants her neighbors to be vigilant. 

    "I wanted for everyone to be aware ... just to be careful with their pets," Lopez said. "Let's be more careful."

    More: FWC finishes first panther family rescue, rehabilitation, release

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    Previously: See photos of a young Florida panther that bonded with its trainer

    How much of a risk?

    A Florida panther attack on a human has never been documented, but Sunday's animal attack is not necessarily uncommon, said Darrell Land, Florida panther team leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    "They are regularly occurring events," he said.

    What's unusual is that it was caught on camera.

    "We don't have to wonder what happened," Land said.

    Sunday's attack prompted the FWC officials to set up a sign at the entrance to Lopez's neighborhood with brochures informing residents about panthers. They have been going door to door to notify residents and educate them on how to reduce conflicts with the animals.

    The FWC tracks what biologists call depredations, which occur when panthers kill or injure domestic animals. Sunday's attack was at least the 10th by a panther in Collier this year, according to FWC data.

    In 2017, the agency recorded 49 depredations in the county involving panthers. In 2016, that number was 25, and 13 in 2015.

    With the county's population increasing and more residents settling in rural areas that panthers might frequent, it is more likely that their paths will cross, Land said.

    "We've seen a tremendous amount of growth in eastern Naples," he said.

    Panthers typically prey on wild hogs, deer, raccoons and armadillos, and sometimes they go after rabbits, alligators and emus, Land said. 

    "If you're made out of meat, you can be on a panther's menu," he said.

    Land, who has seen the video, estimated the panther in Sunday's attack was a male between 3 and 4 years old and weighing 100 to 120 pounds.

    Recording a panther attack on video is rare, Land said. But with the proliferation of home security systems, that could change.

    "It may become more prevalent," he said.

    Related

    FWC offers tips to be safe from panthers

    TIPS FOR LIVING WITH PANTHERS

    » Panthers are most active between sunset and sunrise, so homeowners should keep their pets inside, especially at night.

    » Livestock, such as goats and sheep, should be in secure enclosures.

    » Because panthers are ambush predators, ridding your yard of "stalking cover" also can help minimize the risk of an attack.

    » Bear spray and motion-activated lights also might aid in keeping panthers away.

    » If confronted with a panther, residents should make themselves look big, pick up their kids and speak in a loud voice.

    » Don't turn your back to it or run.

    Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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