BY DAVID OVALLE
Posted on Thu, Dec. 07, 2006
For his child’s birthday party, Goya Foods executive Francisco Unanue hired a troupe of exotic animals that included a 62-pound cougar named Georgia.
The party ended badly when Georgia mauled a 4-year-old guest.
Now the owner of the Kendall-based Wild Animal World — who has been cited in two similar past attacks — faces a misdemeanor charge of allowing injury to the public.
The child is recovering from injuries to her face. Georgia was euthanized last week as part of a rabies test.
“The family wants this to be the last child who is attacked by these animals,” said Dan Dolan, the attorney of the injured girl, who has not been identified.
“We feel that Wild Animal World has a horrible history of these kinds of events and we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure this is the last one.”
The entire attack was videotaped by a man hired by Unanue to film the party for his 7-year-old child.
Unanue’s attorney, Frank M. Smith, has not allowed authorities access to the tape.
The Nov. 18 party was held near the pool at Unanue’s luxurious home on the 7300 block of Los Pinos Blvd. in Coral Gables.
According to Coral Gables police, Wild Animal World owner and trainer Corinne Oltz said she instructed the children to remain calm and quiet as she brought Georgia out.
Oltz was seated with her back to the pool so “no one could sneak up from behind.”
But during the presentation, the girl walked behind the animal kennels and startled the cougar, police said.
One witness told police that “no one saw the child approach the animal until it was too late.”
The declawed cat grasped the child’s head with her teeth. The girl suffered severe lacerations to her eyelid, left cheek and ear. Doctors sewed back part of her severed ear.
The attack is being investigated by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is also examining whether Oltz keeps her animals caged properly. The misdemeanor charge has not been filed yet.
Miami-Dade County also is looking at whether Oltz carries the proper permits.
Wild Animal World, a non-profit, offers a “wide variety of educational, exciting and professional interaction with exotic animals,” and one-hour birthday party shows for $270 in Miami-Dade, according to its website.
Animals include Charlie the ringtail lemur, Popeye the anteater and Cookie the Guyanese porcupine.
Georgia is described as the smallest of the company’s three cougars, which are not considered endangered.
From the company’s website: “She is a tremendous lover, constantly wanting attention and always grooming her trainers with her rough tongue.”
Oltz, the owner and trainer, insisted to police that the cat had proper vaccinations.
After the family of the injured child called the health department, officials asked Oltz to release the animal for testing.
She refused, the health department went to court and Circuit Judge Leonard Glick authorized the cat’s seizure.
“Cougars are wild animals,” health department attorney Morton Laitner said Thursday. “There is no vaccine that works on wild animals.”
The cat was seized Dec. 1 at Wild Animal World, 10495 SW 60th St. The girl’s father joined investigators to help identify the cat.
As is done in such rabies tests, the cat’s head was removed and sent to a lab where its brain was tested.
Results showed the cat did not have rabies, officials say, so the injured child will avoid painful rabies shots.
Oltz has been cited for attacks in the past, authorities said.
In 1999, she was cited in a similar attack, also in Coral Gables. She received a conviction for a wildlife cage violation, court records show.
In 2001, a Wild Animal World leopard attacked a child at a company picnic in Broward County. She received probation for wildlife possession violations, court records show.
“That one was a fraction of an inch from going to the brain stem. That would have killed the kid instantly,” remembered FFW Lt. Pat Reynolds, who is investigating the Coral Gables attack.
Oltz, Unanue and Smith did not return phone calls from The Miami Herald.
Oltz’s qualifications, as listed on the company website: she worked at a bond brokerage firm and modeled for “for catalogues [sic], t.v. and movies.”
Of why she works at Wild Animal World, Oltz says, “I always wanted to do a photo session with a big cat. They provided one on a modeling shoot and I was hooked!”