Monday, June 28, 2004

Boy mauled by lion and tiger left quadriplegic and on respirator

Boy mauled by lion and tiger left quadriplegic and on respirator

Minn. Boy Left Quadriplegic by Lion, Tiger

The Associated Press

Tuesday, June 28, 2005; 9:11 PM

MINNEAPOLIS -- A 10-year-old boy who was attacked by a lion and tiger last week suffered a brain injury and severed spinal cord in the mauling _ injuries that have left the child a quadriplegic and dependent on a respirator, his family said Tuesday.

Russell Lala was attacked last Wednesday during a visit with the animals' owner.

"Russell is a fighter and, while he is still in serious condition, he is communicating with us and we see his strong spirit coming through," his parents Nick and Roseanne Lala said in a statement.

The child and his father were visiting body shop owner Chuck Mock, who owns 11 exotic cats and one bear. When Mock opened the cage, the tiger jumped out and attacked the boy. While Mock was pulling the animal away, the lion bit the child.

Along with the brain injury and severed spinal cord, Russell sustained numerous facial fractures, according to the parents' statement. They said he faces a long rehabilitation.

Phone calls Tuesday to Mock's residence went unanswered.

Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said last week Mock kept the animals as "a novelty."

The lion and the tiger were destroyed last week.


Posted on Wed, Jun. 29, 2005

After attack, warnings on safety of exotic cats as pets


Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS - For the last two years, Kendra Hirsch lived across the street from lions, tigers and a bear.

Hirsch, 13, held some of the animals in her arms when they were cubs, and says she never considered them a threat during her frequent visits to the Little Falls home of their owner, Chuck Mock.

"They're awesome," Hirsch said. "It's not every day you get to go touch a lion or a tiger."

But when two of the animals attacked a 10-year-old boy last week, the latest in a string of attacks by exotic animals kept as pets by Minnesotans, it raised new questions about the danger they pose. The boy, 10-year-old Russell Lala of Royalton, suffered a severed spinal cord and will be a quadriplegic the rest of his life, his parents announced Tuesday.

A new state law this year banned certain exotic pets in the state, but allowed current owners to keep their pets as long as they register them with local animal-control authorities.

Determining exactly how many big cats are in Minnesota is difficult, however, with data dispersed among lots of different agencies. And experts say they believe many people haven't registered their animals.

Tammy Quist, who runs a sanctuary for big cats in Cedar and is often summoned by authorities to find homes for exotic cats, estimates the state has hundreds of tigers and lions. She says she gets 30 calls per month from private pet owners looking for help after they find the animals are more than they bargained for.

National numbers are similarly difficult to track, but Quist estimates there are some 10,000 pet tigers in the U.S. - far more than the number left in the wild.

With plenty of cats available, they don't cost much. Crawford Allan, deputy director of TRAFFIC, a World Wildlife Fund program that specializes in wildlife trade issues, says tigers can easily be found on the Internet.

On one site,, a breeder in Faribault recently was offering black-maned African lion cubs for $1,500 each. Quist said both tiger and lion cubs can be found for as little as $500.

"Breeders up the price for pet owners because those people haven't done the research, they don't know the industry," Quist said.

Quist said many owners buy exotic cats and expect them to act domesticated.

"People are looking for a little bit of novelty and they think if you love something enough it will love you back," Quist said.

But cute, cuddly cubs can quickly overwhelm owners as they grow. An adult tiger eats anywhere from 15 to 20 pounds of meat a day, she said.

"I don't consider (the attacks) lashing out," Quist said. "A tiger lives to be 20 years old and you're going to expect a tiger never to act like a tiger? It's not aggressive behavior, it's tiger behavior."

The difficulty of caring for exotic animals in captivity worries animal activists. The Minnesota registration law is an essential step in tracking the animals, Allan said. Making sure they're properly maintained is another step to take.

Some of the animals taken in by Quist's sanctuary were neglected. One 25-year-old tiger named Meme was brought to the sanctuary after being kept in a 10-foot by 10-foot cage filled with her own feces and the remains of her food - roadkill.

Mock, who had 12 exotic animals at the time of the attack, didn't respond to phone calls to his home or office for this story. Hirsch's mother, Michelle Lickteig, said his animals were treated well and kept in good cages. He was devastated when the two animals in last week's attack were euthanized, she said.

Rachael Ratzlaff of Grand Rapids has owned a lynx for more than a year.

She and her husband became interested in the animal after seeing someone in Montana with one and being attracted to its uniqueness.

"They're just beautiful animals," she said.

Before buying the cat, Ratzlaff and her husband did a lot of research on how to feed the animal and keep it tame. Safety was a big concern for them, and they realized it could be dangerous if they decide to have children.

The Ratzlaffs declawed the animal and built him a 12-foot by 12-foot kennel.

Ratzlaff loves her pet, despite the work.

"But it's not a pet for everybody," she said.

Emily Johns can be reached at

10 year old still in critical condition

A 10-year-old Royalton boy who was attacked by a tiger and a lion Wednesday still was in critical condition Friday night.

Russell LaLa was in the intensive care unit at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis .

Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said he has not filed a report with the county attorney for possible charges against Chuck Mock, who owned the cats. Wetzel expects to do so in a week.

The sheriff said he is waiting to get LaLa's complete medical report to see the extent of the child's injuries. Then the county attorney can get a better picture of the entire incident, Wetzel said. But he said his office is not rushing to complete the report because there is no obvious crime.

"We don't know of any violations," he said. But he said once the county attorney gets the report, he may find a violation.

Mock had 12 exotic animals registered with Morrison County . According to county documents, he had five tigers, six lions and one bear. The two animals who attacked LaLa were euthanized Thursday.

A state law that went into effect Jan. 1 prohibits people from possessing animals such as large cats, primates such as monkeys and apes, and bears.

There are several exceptions to the law, including people who owned such animals before Jan. 1. They were required to register their animals.

Wetzel said the law doesn't go far enough, because people are still allowed to own exotic animals.

"It doesn't protect from an act of bad judgment or a fluke," he said. "I don't think anyone but a zoo should have a large predator."

Rosie Beffinbaugh, St. Cloud 's environmental health technician, said: "We haven't had any applications or knowledge of any exotic animals in St. Cloud ."

LaLa was with his father when he was attacked about 10:45 p.m. Wednesday at Best Buy Auto, three miles south of Little Falls. Mock owns the business and kept the animals near it.

Mock opened the door of a cage and a tiger pushed its way out, Wetzel said. LaLa was alarmed and he moved away quickly. The animal pounced on him, he said. When the men pulled the tiger off the boy, a lion that shared a cage with the tiger lunged at the boy, Wetzel said.

Mock could not be reached for comment.

Exotic-animal owners fight limits

Posted on Sat, Jun. 25, 2005

One fears mauling will bring further restriction


Pioneer Press

Kevin Bakken runs Awesome Exotics in Kenyon , Minn. , and for $2,000 he'll sell you a cougar. An even $1,000 will get you a bobcat, and a black bear will set you back $800.

But Bakken, 39, said Friday he was worried that this week's mauling of a boy near Little Falls, Minn. - and the media coverage it generated - might bring about further restrictions on businesses like his.

"The media kind of makes everything look worse with the animal owners," he said. "There's just too much coverage out there. It's ruining everybody's lives. It's just terrible."

On Wednesday, Russell LaLa, 10, of Royalton , Minn. , was attacked first by a tiger and then by a lion. The animals' owner, Little Falls auto dealer Chuck Mock, was opening the animals' cage to show them to Russell and his father when the tiger jumped out and attacked Russell. Just as Mock got the tiger pulled off the boy, the lion attacked.

The boy remained in critical condition Friday at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis . The Morrison County Sheriff's Department is still investigating the case, and the two animals were euthanized Thursday and will be examined to see if they had rabies.

A man who answered the phone at Mock's residence Friday said, "Sorry, he's not taking any calls for a few days. Thank you." The man hung up without identifying himself.

For many years, exotic animals were virtually unregulated in Minnesota . But last year, the Legislature passed a law making it illegal to own a "regulated animal" (a large cat, bears and nonhuman primates) but those who already owned such animals could keep them as long as they registered with their local animal control authority.

The 11 animals Mock owned - including lions and tigers and a bear - were properly registered, Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said. The animals were kept at Mock's auto dealership, about three miles south of Little Falls.

The law that was passed last year grew out of legislation proposed by state Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley. His original bill called for eventually phasing out private ownership of exotic animals in Minnesota .

The proposal ran into stiff opposition from breeders and owners of animal parks, so as a compromise, owners were allowed to restock their animals on a one-to-one basis.

"I would've gone further to phase them out," Betzold said. "I felt that the day would come when there was going to be a tragic incident, and people would say, 'Why didn't the Legislature do more to prevent this from happening?' "

The senator said he might try "tightening" the law in the next legislative session.

But Bakken, who advertises a variety of exotic animals for sale on his Web site, said he provides a needed service.

"If it wasn't for places like my facility, zoos wouldn't be open, or educational facilities," he said.

Asked why people buy such animals, Bakken replied, "Why do people have kids? There's people that shouldn't have animals, and there's people that shouldn't have kids. Why do people have kids if they can't take care of them?"

Bakken said operators of such facilities have been unfairly persecuted by government authorities and the media following a spate of attacks. He cited the case of BEARCAT Hollow, a wildlife park in Racine , Minn. , that had as many as 300 animals at one time.

Earlier this month, the owner of the park, Nancy Kraft, was sentenced to 15 months in prison by a federal judge for falsifying paperwork to buy and sell exotic animals.

Four years ago, one of Kraft's Siberian tigers attacked Emily Hartman, 7, of Rochester , Minn.

"Look at BEARCAT Hollow," said Bakken. "They checked the wrong box on their paperwork and they (the federal government) say there's illegal animal trafficking. And that kid that got bit down there, the kid didn't even bleed, and they call that a 'mauling.' "

"He doesn't know what he's talking about," said Emily's mother, Mary Hartman. "Emily not only bled, Emily was in shock."

The attack happened July 21, 2001, when Kraft had invited Emily into a barn to see the tiger, named Como . The animal crouched, watching the girl, and when she walked past a second time, it leaped at her.

"He got out and grabbed her around the back and through the chest and under her arm pit," Hartman said. "It dragged her out of the barn and to the back of the property."

The girl had puncture wounds on her back, including one that was 2½ inches deep. There was a 4½-inch tear of the skin on one of her arms and the tiger left a 3½ -inch-deep bite in her chest wall.

"She was ripped up pretty good," said her mother. The girl spent four days in the hospital and another month on antibiotics to fight infections.

Hartman said that for some, owning exotic animals is an expensive status symbol.

"I don't think that it's a legitimate industry," she said. "There's no reason for it. It's a big burden on law enforcement when they have to go in and clean up after them. Those animals didn't do anything wrong. The animal ends up paying for our ego, our greed, our stupidity."

David Hanners can be reached at or 651-228-5551.

LAWS Big Cat Bans in MN

Want a wild cat? Laws tame probability

By Mackenzie Ryan

St. Augusta is the only city in the six-city metro area that does not have regulations banning or a strict permit process guiding ownership of wild animals.

Sartell, Sauk Rapids, St. Joseph and Waite Park all have ordinances that ban exotic animals. St. Cloud requires permits for wild animals, although the city has not given out any permits.

Area city officials want to prevent what happened in June, when a 10-year-old boy was attacked by a tiger and a lion in Little Falls. Russell Lala will be quadriplegic for the rest of his life after suffering a brain injury and severed spinal cord.

Lala was attacked when he and his father were visiting Chuck Mock, owner of 11 exotic cats and one bear. The tiger and lion have since been euthanized.

A new state law bans ownership of certain exotic pets, but allows current owners to keep their pets as long as they register them with local animal-control authorities.

"I don't think people realize how dangerous they really could be," said Lisa Tenter, who contracts with St. Cloud to provide emergency animal control. "I sure wouldn't want people in my neighborhood owning them."

She used to work at a veterinary clinic in the area and said she saw a handful of dangerous animals come in for treatment. She did not know if they lived within city limits or not.

"I've even seen alligators, wolves and I've seen the large boas - very, very large boas - and I've seen mountain lion-type cats," she said.

St. Cloud Animal Control receives exotic animal complaints about once or twice a year, said Dave Popken, St. Cloud 's health director.

Two years ago a complaint came in about a person who owned a bobcat cub and sometimes brought it into a bar, Popken said. The animal was removed, he said.

City ordinances

St. Cloud does not specifically ban keeping predatory or wild animals, but a permit is required for exotic animals that could be harmful.

There are no valid permits in place in the city, Popken said.

"If someone came in with a tiger or bobcat, I would consider it a threat to citizens and I would not issue a permit," Popken said.

The city's ordinance includes the permitting process in case a business wanted to own exotic animals, he said.

Popken said he has turned down a half dozen requests to own such animals in recent years.

"We're comfortable with controlling it in this manner," Popken said.

The city is unique in the area for having a permitting approach to exotic animals.

"The city feels that it is necessary to regulate any kinds of dangers, potential hazards that could come into the community,"Sauk Rapids Police Chief Curt Gullickson said.

Wild animals

But having city ordinances does not mean lions and tigers and bobcats aren't here.

Animal control officials recall a few times visitors have brought predatory cats into the city.

Last Thanksgiving, emergency responders found three tiger cubs and a 300-pound tiger in a trailer after the owners had an auto accident on Interstate Highway 94, Tenter said.

The cubs were taken to St. Cloud Hospital with the family - Tenter brought kennels for the animals - and the tiger's trailer was towed and placed in a secured building owned by the towing company.

People at the hospital took pictures of the cubs, Tenter said. But just because they were cute does not mean they were not dangerous.

"I call them baby tigers, but they were very intimidating and people were afraid to go near them," Tenter said. "They make noises that are pretty scary for a cub."

The animals were used as part of a magic show and lived on an unlicensed wildlife farm near Underwood.

Nine tigers were recently seized from the farm after a lion escaped almost a week after Lala was attacked. The escaped cat was shot by a deputy sheriff.

Another time, a family staying at a local hotel a few years ago brought along a serval cat - an African cat with long legs and large ears that can grow to almost 40 pounds.

The cat was in the hotel's stairwell when St. Cloud animal control official Rosie Deffinbaugh arrived, she said.

"I was quite scared of it at first, but when I brought it to the office one of the coworkers heard it purring," Deffinbaugh said.

It was released to its owners when they left town, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.