BROOKSVILLE — State officials say they won't take any action against Brooksville resident Ronald Gard after Gard's cougar killed a neighboring beagle that wandered into the property.
The cougar, Charlie, which was in a special section of its enclosure during a morning feeding, broke out of the wired cage and bit the dog. The bite to the head killed the dog, Fester. Charlie remained near the enclosure until Gard, 73, led it into a barn by a rope leash attached to his collar.
An investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission showed that because the incident took place at Gard's residence and the dog agitated the cougar, Charlie was not at fault.
"The enclosure met and exceeded present state standards for that type of animal," Gary Morse of FWC said. Since the incident on May 27, Charlie's enclosure has been reinforced. Gard also holds the proper license to own the cougar.
Gard adopted Charlie when it was 5 days old and said that for the past nine years, the cougar has never made its way out of the cage. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office said that in the past year, no calls have been made to Gard's residence because of his animals, which also include alligators and snakes.
Gard said he regularly handles and plays with the cougar and that Charlie is regularly exhibited at Howard's Flea Market in Homosassa.
"He's just like a big kitty cat. If a person was there he would have no issue with it," Gard said. "Cougars are very territorial of other animals. They are afraid of people, not other animals."
Although Gard's residence is classified as an agricultural zone that allows most of his animals, Hernando County Planning Department records show that Gard has not filed for the special exception to keep Charlie on the property.
Zoning administrator Chris Linsbeck said that because Gard rents the property, the landlord would have to file for the exception on behalf of the tenant. A special exception is granted after neighbors are informed of the cougar's presence and then a hearing is held.
The beagle's owners, Mickey and Francis Milano, were not available for comment.
Laura Herrera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.