BRIER — Dianna Hanson’s love of animals began as a volunteer at a Lynnwood animal shelter and included her work last year as a research volunteer at a Kenyan wildlife preserve.
Tragically, her life-long passion also led to her death.
Hanson, who was working as an intern at Project Survival’s Cat Haven near Fresno, Calif., died Wednesday after being attacked by a 4-year-old, 550-pound male African lion.
The organization cares for as many as 50 big cats such as tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars and cheetahs, according to The Fresno Bee.
The attack happened at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday when the lion used his paw to lift a partially closed door and escaped a smaller cage before attacking and killing Hanson, who was cleaning a larger enclosure, according to the Fresno County coroner’s office.
The animal who attacked Hanson, named Cous Cous, had been raised at the facility since he was an 8-week old cub, The Fresno Bee reported.
On Thursday, the Fresno County coroner said that Hanson died of a broken neck from the lion’s paw swipe.
Hanson had moved to California in January to work at Cat Haven. In a light-hearted Facebook post she said of her work there: “I am pretty handy with a poop spoon.”
Hanson, 24, grew up in Brier and was a 2007 graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School, where she participated on the school’s track and swim teams.
She worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor for the city of Shoreline, beginning when she was 16.
Eric Bratton, the city’s public information officer, said that her work there continued over the next eight years, most recently in December.
Hanson served as a mentor to other pool employees, he said. “She had the uncanny ability to make those around her feel comfortable and included,” he said in a statement.
She was one of the pool’s most popular swim instructors and touched the lives of countless children in the Shoreline community, he said.
In the summers of 2008 and 2009, she volunteered for PAWS in Lynnwood, a shelter for adopting cats and dogs and which rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife.
Hanson worked on Wednesday mornings, cleaning the room where up to 150 cats and kittens are housed, said Molly Reagan Axt, PAWS’ program manager.
Axt said that as soon as she saw photos of the woman killed in the attack, she recognized her as a former PAWS volunteer.
“It’s always hard to lose someone, especially in connection with their own passion,” Axt said.
Paul Hanson, Dianna’s father, told the Associated Press that his daughter’s goal was to work with big cats at an accredited zoo and that she died doing what she loved. Paul Hanson, a Lynnwood attorney who accompanied her on her trip to California earlier this year, described her as a “fearless” lover of big cats.
That love was apparent on her Facebook page, which is plastered with photos of her petting tigers and other big cats. She told her father she was frustrated that Cat Haven did not allow direct contact with animals.
“She was disappointed because she said they wouldn’t let her into the cages with the lion and tiger there,” Paul Hanson said.
Hanson was a student at Western Washington University, where she majored in biology. She graduated in 2011.
The university released this statement: “Members of the Western Washington University community are deeply saddened by and share in the loss of Western graduate Dianna Hanson. We offer our sympathy and condolences to her family and friends.”
Last year, Hanson traveled to Africa to volunteer at the Soysambu Conservancy, a 48,000-acre nature and wildlife preserve in the Great Rift Valley.
The organization posted a picture of Hanson on its Facebook page with this comment: “She was full of energy and left a legacy here at Soysambu where she interned at our Field Study Centre. She will be very missed.”
DJ Jakala, a spokeswoman for the Edmonds School District, said Thursday that no Mountlake Terrace teachers or staff were available to comment on Hanson’s death.
“Dianna is fondly remembered by many of the staff at Mountlake Terrace High School as a student leader who was very involved in our school during her days as a student with us,” Jakala said in a statement.
“Our hearts go out to her family as they cope with the loss of Dianna.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.