A 4-year-old boy was mauled by a pet mountain lion Sunday afternoon, but no charges have been filed and definitive answers about the legality of the animal being kept as a pet have been elusive.
The boy received lacerations and puncture wounds on his left side, including a bite mark on the left side of his face during the attack around 3:15 p.m. Sunday in West Odessa, Sgt. Gary Duesler with the Ector County Sheriff’s Office said.
He was taken to Medical Center Hospital, but neither his name nor his condition was available Monday.
Amber Michelle Couch, 9450 W. 26th St., who owned the mountain lion, was given a citation for not keeping up with the vaccines on the animal, Cpl. Sherrie Carruth with the Odessa Police Department said. According to a neighbor and family member, Couch is the boy’s aunt.
That woman who identified herself as a family member of the two women involved – the mountain lion’s owner and the mother of the child – said the mother of the child did not want a story to run in the newspaper about it and that the family would not speak about it.
Duesler said Monday morning that the county would not pursue any criminal charges and would defer to the city for any such charges, but Carruth said the house is outside of the city’s jurisdiction.
“Our animal control is hoping they would follow up on endangerment charges for the child,” Carruth said.
Because animal control officers are not licensed peace officers, Carruth said they could not do anything more than cite the owner.
After several calls between the two agencies, during which neither would claim responsibility for taking further potential legal action, Sheriff Mark Donaldson changed the tone and did not rule out charges.
Donaldson said the investigation has not yielded any evidence to suggest a criminal charge is warranted, but the office will continue to work with the district and county attorney offices to determine whether charges can be filed.
The mountain lion was being held in a cage just behind the fence line on the property’s front yard, somewhat obstructed from street view by tall bushes.
Carruth said the 12-year-old mountain lion, which weighed about 150 lbs., was euthanized and its head is being sent to a lab to test for rabies.
“He was in a cage that had large openings,” she said. “So if you stood close to it, he could reach out.”
In fact, the cage was a point of scrutiny during an animal control visit in July, Carruth said, when the owners of the cat were told the cage was too small and gaps in the cage were too large.
Carruth said the owners did nothing to fix the problems, resulting in the attack.
But despite previous statements by Carruth earlier Monday that it was legal for the woman to have the animal on her property, the Odessa American discovered that Texas and county laws declare dangerous animals such as that in unincorporated areas must be registered, and even then owners must adhere to a strict set of rules.
The animal wasn’t registered, although Carruth said the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told animal control in July that it did not need to be.
Chris Mitchell, a spokesman with the TPWD, said there would be no circumstance under which the department would advise anyone they did not need a permit for a mountain lion.
Even in the certain situations when a permit may be issued, such as for research or rehabilitation, he said the TPWD does not issue such permits and that would be left to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.
“You have to have a reason to have a mountain lion like that,” he said.
A man who would only identify himself as James is a neighbor and said he heard the commotion Sunday and was the person who called 9-1-1.
“I heard someone say, ‘He’s got him.’ That’s all I heard, just screaming and chaos,” he said. “And you could hear them saying, ‘Somebody call 9-1-1. Somebody get a gun.’”
It was then he said he told his wife and children to go inside, fearing for their safety if someone fired a gun or if the mountain lion got loose.
James said he saw the boy being carried into the ambulance and also saw the mountain lion carried into an animal control truck. He said it took two men to lift the cat.
Despite having never seen the mountain lion before, James said his wife told him she heard the animal roar but he didn’t believe her.
He said with a laugh he believes her now.