Caged leopard attacks sanctuary volunteer

Published Sept. 4, 1998|Updated Sept. 13, 2005

A volunteer at an exotic cat sanctuary was recovering Thursday after she was mauled by a black leopard that attacked her through its cage.

Mindy Harrell, 46, of Odessa said she received 451 stitches to her right arm after Wednesday's attack at Wildlife on Easy Street. The leopard, named Jamongee, removed skin from her elbow to her wrist.

"It had its paws stuck out of the cage, and I was petting it," said Harrell, who had worked as a volunteer for three months.

Before she could move away, Harrell said, the animal pulled her hand through the cage bars and locked its fangs around her arm. "I think it was partly my fault because I pulled out, and that caused the rip," Harrell said. "It happened so fast I can't remember, but that's what it looks like."

Harrell was treated at St. Joseph's Hospital and released the same day. She expects to recuperate for a couple of months, before resuming work at the sanctuary.

Carole Lewis, owner of the sanctuary, did not return a telephone message Thursday. Sheriff's deputies said Lewis was driving Harrell to the hospital when she hit a traffic jam at Gunn Highway and Linebaugh Avenue, got out of her car and requested a police escort from an officer she flagged down.

It is unclear what will happen to Jamongee or what precautions will be taken to prevent another attack. The 40-acre sanctuary, off Sheldon Road, is home to about 100 exotic cats, including lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, panthers, servals and lynxes. Though not generally open to the public, it does offer tours by appointment.

Lewis' husband and co-founder of the sanctuary, Don Lewis, disappeared more than a year ago, and his children from a previous marriage have squabbled with Carole Lewis in court over control of his money.