LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – The latest in a string of incidents involving exotic animals kept by private residents in Minnesota has left a 10-year-old boy in critical condition after being mauled by a lion just outside this central Minnesota town.
Russell LaLa (search) of Royalton was attacked about 10:45 p.m. Wednesday when he and his father visited Chuck Mock (search) at Best Buy Auto. Mock is the registered owner of 11 large cats and a bear, said Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel.
Mock opened the door of a cage on the Best Buy Auto property and a tiger pushed its way out to attack the boy. Wetzel said that when the owner was pulling off the tiger, a lion moved in and bit Russell.
The boy was initially transported to St. Gabriel's Hospital in Little Falls (search) before being moved to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. A medical center spokeswoman said the boy's family did not wish to be interviewed.
Wetzel said Mock has registered 12 animals with the state. The sheriff said he thought Mock kept the animals as "a novelty."
"I don't think anyone should have them," Wetzel said of the animals. "Just because you're legal doesn't mean you're safe."
Mock did not return telephone calls to his home and office on Thursday.
Wetzel said in a news released that the lion and the tiger were euthanized about 1 p.m. Thursday. The animals were to be tested for diseases that could harm the victim.
Jenna Doble, a neighbor of the LaLa family in Royalton, said Mock was well known in the community for his exotic pets. She said her sister, Molly, has visited them.
"I would never go over there," she said, but added, "My sister held his alligator and he didn't bite her."
No one was at home Thursday at the LaLa's address on a quiet rural road. Royalton is about 11 miles south of Little Falls.
In Little Falls, Michelle Lickteig said she had seen Mock's menagerie many times and hadn't considered the animals a threat. "Chuck is just devastated," she said of her neighbor. "He loved the animals."
Her 13-year-old daughter, Kendra Hirsch, said she was sad the lion, Leo, and tiger, Georgette, had been put down. "When I visited the animals, Chuck was always with me," she said. "He wouldn't let anything happen."
The attack was the most severe in a recent string of incidents involving exotic animals kept by Minnesotans on private land.
On June 11, a lion escaped from the Arcangel Wildlife Farm (search) in Otter Tail County in western Minnesota. A sheriff's deputy shot and killed the lion after attempts to find its owner or a veterinarian with a tranquilizer gun failed.
County authorities had been investigating the farm ever since a tiger there bit and scratched a 16-year-old girl as she was petting it through its makeshift cage on March 6. The nine tigers still there were in the process of being moved out on Thursday.
On April 27, four tigers attacked Allison Asher, 37, while she was cleaning their pens on a man's property in Florence Township in southeastern Minnesota. Asher was hospitalized for a time with wounds to the leg and neck.
In 2003, a tiger at same compound was euthanized after it bit a 31-year-old pregnant woman on the wrist.
Southeastern Minnesota was the scene of another high-profile tiger attack in 2001 when a young girl was wounded at the BEARCAT Hollow animal park (search) in Racine, about 90 miles south of Minneapolis and near the Iowa border.
The owners of BEARCAT were later convicted on charges related to illegal animal trafficking.