Dianna Hanson's family is still in shock after their tragic loss. Her father, Merced native Paul Hanson, said the family is finding comfort knowing she was doing what she loved.
Paul says ever since Dianna was a little girl, she dreamed of working with animals. While he knew there was dangers in her calling, he is still in shock over her tragic death.
Paul Hanson drove his daughter down to the facility in January. That was the last time he saw her. He recalls the moment he received that devastating phone call.
"I said, 'Did she get killed by one of the big cats?' And she said 'yes.' So I always feared -- always feared it would happen," said Paul, "But this was her dream, she was living her dream. She was so happy working with her big cats."
Paul said he had an eerie feeling that his daughter could one day lose her life to the animals that she loved.
"You just can't tell them no, you can't do it, you shouldn't do it. They know the risks, but they love it so much, it's their dream. You want them to live their dream, you want them to be happy," said Paul, "So I've always encouraged her, never tried to discourage her. But I always had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that someday I'd get a call like this -- someday this would happen."
Paul said he still has question surrounding her death.
"I don't know why Diana was in the cage. When she took me down there and showed me the place, she said, 'You know we're not allowed to go into the cage with the lions and tiger here. Only the owner Dale Anderson could do that. We're not allowed to do that. We can go in the other cages -- they're perfectly safe.' They feed them from the outside, there's no way you can be harmed from the outside, but apparently she went inside the lion's cage and I don't know how or why she would've done that."
Paul says his daughter had experience handling animals. She had trained with tigers and a lion while in college at Western Washington State University. She also traveled to Africa to work with large cats. She was two months into her six month internship, which she was doing to get the necessary credits to one day work at a zoo.
Paul says up until her daughter's death, this was the happiest he had ever seen her -- working and living among the beautiful cats.
"I do want Dianna's story to be told," Paul said, "She would want people not to be afraid of the big cats not hate them or fear. She would say don't blame the tiger and the lions. She was so concerned about preserving these animals."
Paul says although he is in shock over his daughter's death, he knows Dianna would want people to open up their hearts to these large animals.
The tragedy unfolded Wednesday afternoon at the Cat Haven in Dunlap. When investigators arrived, they found Dianna Hanson in an enclosure with the lion Cous Cous. Deputies say they shot the lion to get close to Hanson. Dianna died in the enclosure.
Annual safety checks by the U.S.D.A. and Fish and Game show Cat Haven is in good safety standing, and has been so for more than a decade. Cat Haven's founder, Dale Anderson, says he and his employees are devastated.
Investigators will be back out on the scene, on Thursday, trying to piece together what exactly happened. The coroner's office will perform an autopsy on Hanson's body and a necropsy will be performed on the lion.