A woman fought to protect her beloved miniature Schnauzer from a mountain lion by punching the big cat and trying to pry the dog from its powerful jaws during a deadly encounter in the backyard of a Simi Valley home.
Several neighbors reported seeing the mountain lion in the residential area in the hours before 10-year-old Pumbaa was killed and another dog, an 8-year-old Havanese named Sammy, was injured by the animal at a nearby home, police said Thursday.
Police and agents with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife responded to the neighborhood Wednesday. Officers remained in the area early Thursday, searching for the big cat in the community about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
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In a public safety alert, police said there were multiple reports of a mountain lion and asked people to keep pets indoors. The first reports were received Wednesday around midday in the Pawnee Court and Seneca Place area in northeast Simi Valley.
Officers who responded overnight looked over a fence and saw the mountain lion in the backyard of a home with a dead dog, police said. The owner suffered a minor cut on her finger after she tried to protect her pet from the big cat.
"She obviously cared about her dog very much, as all dog owners do," said Sgt. Keith Eisenhour. "She tried to fend the animal off by punching it, elbowing it and tried to pry its jaws open."
The homeowner's brother said Pumbaa woke her up around 2 a.m.
"She figured it had to go to the bathroom and opened the door," said the brother, identified only as Brian. "I think she went out first, and she saw the mountain lion and her dog charged under her legs toward the mountain lion, and the mountain lion snapped it up.
"She jumped on the mountain lion and tried to pry its jaws open to save her dog because she loves her dog so much."
The owner of the injured dog, Michael Cheng, said his wife was walking Sammy at about 9 p.m. Wednesday when the mountain lion attacked. She had to fight the mountain lion off the dog, which was later taken to and released from the pet hospital.
Authorities, including police and officers with Ventura County Animal Control, fanned out in the neighborhood but did not find the animal.
The mountain lion was wearing a tracking collar, the Ventura County Star reported. The devices are used by the National Park Service as part of the agency's studies of mountain lions in Southern California.
Authorities believe the mountain lion that attacked the pets may have been P-35, a 9-year-old female who had been tracked by the National Pet Service before her collar stopped working.
A wildlife volunteer went door to door Thursday, informing residents of the potential danger to their pets posed by the mountain lion.
"I'm taking [my dog] right now for a walk further away from this area so that we don't run into the mountain lion by accident," said Dimitri Orloff, a dog owner from the neighborhood.
A spokesperson from the National Parks service said that mountain lions rarely attack people or pets. However, residents who see a mountain lion should contact police immediately.
In June 2018, a litter of four mountain lion kittens was found in the Simi Hills, a small area of habitat wedged between the larger Santa Monica and Santa Susana mountain ranges. The kittens are all female and are now known as P-66, P-67, P-68 and P-69.
The mother of the kittens is P-62, who researchers have been tracking since January. She was recaptured in July and fitted with a new GPS collar.
The mountain lion population is high in California, relative to other parts of the United States. Density estimates vary, but the figure might be as high as 10 lions per 100 square miles. By that estimate, the population is somewhere between 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions statewide.
But it's difficult to say whether that population is increasing or decreasing without an ongoing statewide study.
One thing is certain — mountain lions go where they can find food, primarily deer. That sometimes brings them into urban areas, like Simi Valley, but it should be noted that a person is 1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. There have been only 16 verified mountain lion attacks in California since 1890, six of which were fatal, according to the agency.
The department receives hundreds of reports each year about mountain lions killing pets and livestock.
Mountain lions are a specially protected species in California under the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990, approved as Prop 117 by California voters. The classification has nothing to do with mountain lion numbers in California, but its passage made it illegal to hunt the big cats.