BOWLER, Wis. - Relatives of a northeastern Wisconsin woman say she has died of injuries suffered when saving her 4-year-old son from an attack by the family's dog.
Heather Pingel was rushed to Aspirus Wausau Hospital following the Dec. 8 attack at the family’s home in Bowler. Her sister, Shannon Pingel, says Heather suffered extensive injuries and died on Thursday.
Her son, Damion Bernarde, received about 70 stitches to his leg after he was attacked, but is back home from the hospital.
"She is the bravest, strongest mother I know to do that for her child; she risked her life to save him," Shannon Pingel said. "She is a hero."
A Shawano County sheriff's report says when Damion's father, Shane Bernarde, returned home that afternoon, he found the family's pit bull attacking Heather in the bathroom, Wausau Daily Herald Media reports.
After locating their son in the living room, Bernarde grabbed the dog, pulling it outside and fatally shot it. The father was bitten as well.
Shannon Pingel says her sister suffered kidney failure and both of her arms were amputated, among other health issues. She was unable to say what may have triggered the attack. But, family members theorize that because the dog was skittish when loud noises happened, the animal likely attacked after Damion fell down some stairs and started crying.
They believe Heather found the dog attacking her son and pulled it into the bathroom.
The sheriff's report said it wasn't the first time the dog had shown signs of aggression. Shannon said her sister had a fondness for animals and couldn't let the dog go.
"My sister has the biggest heart for animals and just couldn’t get rid of it ... her heart was too big and they thought they could fix him," Shannon said.