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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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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Erica Triantafilo holds the family cat Tara Wednesday morning. The cat became a hero when a dog attacked Erica's son, Jeremy, in the front yard of their home on Eagle Vista Drive in Bakersfield and Tara came out and chased the dog away.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

The Triantafilo family cat, Tara, looks out the window at a dog Wednesday afternoon. The cat became an instant hero when a dog attacked 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo while he played in his front yard on Eagle Vista Drive in Bakersfield and Tara came out and chased the dog away. Jeremy needed stitches for severe bites to his leg and his mother, Erica, also needed medical aid from bites she sustained while protecting her son.

Like so many who truly inspire us, Tara the cat is of humble origin.

For starters, she's a cat -- and if popular culture has taught us nothing, it's that cats are as likely to be mischievous tricksters or indifferent sycophants as they are to rank among our greatest American heros.

Top Cat, Fritz the Cat, and The Cat in the Hat all fall into the former category; the latter might include villain Ernst Blofeld's cat in several of the James Bond films.

Dogs are normally your go-to saviours. Think of Lassie, or Sgt. Stubby, the stray dog promoted to sergeant in World War I, or even the unnamed Newfoundland who reportedly saved Napoleon from drowning.

Napoleon was already in exile, but the dog might not have known that.

Tara the cat takes a similar, albeit more serious path to history.

She followed future owner Erica Triantafilo home from Silver Creek Park to her parents' house one day about six years ago.

"She followed us home from the park in, I believe it was February of 2008, back when my husband and I were just dating and really just adopted us from there," Erica Triantafilo said.

Her parents, who already had several cats and dogs of their own, encouraged Tara to find a home, Triantafilo said.

"The cat didn't leave their house and they said, 'This cat needs to go,' and we said, 'It loves us.'"

They named her Tara -- a contraction of Zatara, which is what the smugglers who rescued him called Edmond Dantes in "The Count of Monte Cristo."

It means driftwood, the smugglers told Dantes.

"We named her driftwood because she's our little cat that followed us home," Triantafilo said. "She's our little driftwood. She's amazing."

Tara, who now gets all the dry cat food she can handle (it cleans the teeth), has found her place in the growing household.

"She sleeps at the foot of our bed," said Triantafilo, who married her husband, Roger, in 2009 and has three young boys. "She only occasionally asks in and out. She swipes her paw on the slider to let us know."