Teen girl mauled by cougar to fully recover
A 16-year-old girl mauled by a 150-pound cougar in North Miami-Dade is expected to make a full recovery after hours of surgery.
By JENNIFER LEBOVICH AND LUISA YANEZ
A 16-year-old South Florida girl mauled by a 150-pound cougar left a local hospital Sunday after more than two hours of surgery to repair a large gash in the back of her neck suffered when the animal clenched its powerful jaws around her head.
“It’s really a miracle that she’s alive,” said a family spokesman Sunday who asked that the girl’s name and his not be published. The Miami Herald is honoring their request.
“She comes from a very private family and they just want to move on.”
The teen is expected “to make a 100 percent recovery,” the spokesman said. Because the male cougar, named Chaos, was declawed, the girl did not suffer scratches to her face or body, but her wound had to be meticulously cleaned by surgeons.
Saturday’s attack was witnessed by the girl’s mother, who had brought her daughter to work cleaning out cages at a private wild animal sanctuary in a North Miami-Dade home to earn community service hours required to graduate from high school.
The teen is scheduled to meet with wildlife investigators Monday as they try to determine what prompted the cougar to pounce, said Jorge Pino, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“I can tell you that it was totally unprovoked and out of character for the animal, who apparently went into a rage,” the family spokesman said he has been told.
The cougar lunged at the teen in the yard of the home of Alan Rigerman, a retired Miami-Dade science teacher and school district gadfly who has a captive-wildlife permit that allows him to keep the animals at his home in the 17900 block of Northwest 84th Avenue.
Rigerman owns a second cougar, snakes, tortoises and alligators.
The girl and her mother had been brought to the home without permission by Anthony Zitnick, 21, who after the attack was arrested on a charge of burglary of an occupied dwelling. He posted bail on Sunday.
Rigerman told The Miami Herald that Zitnick entered the property with a key he had given him after Hurricane Wilma in 2005, but that Zitnick only helped with the animals while under Rigerman’s “supervision.”
Zitnick was never alone with the cougar, Rigerman said.
Early reports that Zitnick had brought the girl to the home to impress her were incorrect, the family spokesman said.
“She had never met this man before and that was her first time at the home,” the family spokesman said.
Zitnick casually knew the girl’s mother and had asked her if any of her children would be interested in the nonpaying job.
“The girl and her mother had no idea Mr. Zitnick did not belong on the premises, which they entered with a key. There was no jumping of any fence,” the family spokesman said.
As they toured the property, Chaos got agitated, suddenly lurched and pinned the girl, and put its mouth around her head. A neighbor who heard the girl’s screams jumped over the fence and helped free her from Chaos’ jaws by punching the animal in the face.
At the time of Saturday’s attack, Rigerman was out of town at a reptile show in Tampa. He said his sanctuary was last inspected by wildlife officials on Thursday — and he had passed with flying colors.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org