DEVASTATED animal lovers are mourning the loss of a 'hero' dog which fought off a bear attack long enough for his owner and four other pets to find safety.
Lovable Pete died after saving Stephen Parisi from a startled black bear while trekking through New Jersey's Monksville Reservoir.
Heavy rainfall stopped the bear from smelling Stephen further away and it then attacked out of fear for the hikers.
The 14-year-old English Settler managed to hold off the attack while Stephen and the other pooches ran to safety.
He tied the animals to a nearby tree before returning to scare off the bear.
Wife Cathi told BBC News the bear could not make a 180-degree turn to escape, choosing instead to face off Stephen and the ill-fated dog.
But the confrontation left poor Pete "gravely injured".
After rushing the English Settler to hospital, X-rays confirmed "pretty bad spinal damage that would mean he would never walk again".
Yesterday afternoon, they decided to "let him go" instead of putting him through a slew of painful surgeries.
The couple later wrote a tear-jerking tribute after the tragic incident on their Instagram account, dedicated to their rescued pets.
Cathi shared her husband's emotional testimony of the attack, lamenting: "Today we lost our brave, old man Pete.
"Once I was sure they were safe, I went back and scared the bear off, but Pete was gravely injured.
"He held on like a real trooper the whole time, and he was never alone in his pain.
"Run free Pete, you no longer have all those aches and pains of old age."
The canine's untimely death spread rapidly through Twitter, with over one million mourning the loss.
Ben White, a friend and economic correspondent at CNBC, hailed the "hero" dog in a tweet now seen by over seven million.
The TV journalist wrote: "He was an older guy and went out a true hero. RIP PETE THE HERO!"
He was joined by fellow correspondent MJ Lee from CNN, who wished them well but found solace as Stephen had "the most special, sweet friend".
Thousands then joined the online grieving.
One user said: "See you at the rainbow bridge Pete. What a good boy, and a hero too!"
Later Ryan Yantz summed up the public mood, saying: "Humans don't deserve dogs. RIP PETE THE HERO".
His tweet was echoed hundreds of times, with user Cecily "fully sobbing" over Pete and declaring: "Dogs are better than people."
Cathi spoke of her loss, saying: "Please light a candle for Pete. Remember that fostering a dog can sometimes save you.
"Love you Petey."