A mountain lion jumped the six-foot backyard fence of Tamara Heffington's West Golden Hills home and attacked and killed her 12-year-old Pomeranian before leaping back over the fence with her pet, which she said she never saw again.
"Just as I was getting ready to unlock the sliding glass doors and turn the light on, I heard a big thud," Heffington said of the Oct. 27 attack on Carriage Road. "I was getting ready to go out when a big mountain lion jumped right on top of her in front of my sliding glass doors."
She estimated the mountain lion that killed her dog, Halle, which had gone out at 5 a.m. for a bathroom break, weighed about 150 pounds.
"I was standing there, pounding and pounding on my glass door, and he just laid there on top of my dog," she said, adding the lion broke her dog's neck.
The Kern County Sheriff's Office said Friday evening that there have been reports of a mountain lion spotted in the residential areas of Golden Hills in recent weeks.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has been notified and is "actively working with area residents to resolve this issue in the safest manner possible for the residents and the mountain lion," a KCSO news release said.
The sheriff's office urged residents to report any sightings at wildlife.ca.gov. But if humans are in immediate physical danger, call 911, the sheriff's office wrote.
Residents are concerned. Heffington said she also owns a 14-year-old Chihuahua; however, the older dog refused to go outside the morning her Pomeranian was attacked and instead kept barking.
The neighborhood is shared by a large deer population. Heffington said she usually sees deer, including a four-point buck and five does, in front of her home every morning. The mountain lion isn't catching them, she said.
"I (have) lived up here for 15 years with my dogs, and I have never had issues," Heffington said. They don't run around in the street or in front, they have their own backyard."
Heffington said she called the Department of Fish and Wildlife twice, but did could not reach anyone to report the incident. Later that day, Heffington said, she was able to contact Victoria Monroe, an environmental scientist for the Department of Fish and Game.
"She stated that she would issue a warrant to kill on our property later that night on Friday when she got killed," Heffington said.
Heffington said there was an error on the permit when she received it, and she tried contacting Monroe several times without success. A month later, Heffington said, she was contacted by Monroe, and was given another 10-day permit that would allow her to kill a mountain lion should she see it on her property again.
Because of the attack on her pet, Heffington said she purchased three surveillance cameras and installed them on the outside of her residence. Three weeks after the cameras were installed, Heffington recorded what appears to be the same mountain lion on Nov. 8, at 4:50 a.m., walking in the street in front of her home in one direction, with a second recording at 10 p.m. that night walking back in the direction it had come earlier that morning.
Heffington said that, in her opinion, the cat on the video was the same one that killed her dog.
"When my dog was killed, I notified the police department because the kids would be walking to the bus stop, but they were closed because it was 5 in the morning, so i called 9-1-1 and they said that they were not equipped to handle the situation," Heffington said.
Heffington said she was told by the environmental scientist that "there are tons of lions in Tehachapi, but they won't send a trapper up here."
The Tehachapi News contacted both local and state officials at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, in addition to the Tehachapi Police Chief Kent Kroeger, the Tehachapi substation of the Kern County Sheriff's Office and the environmental scientist. Only KCSO called back, but could not be reached again by press time.
Heffington said she also contacted the sheriff's department about the incident.
"The sheriff said just to make sure that everything is legal, but if we see it in our yard and felt our life was threatened, to kill it," Heffington said. "But he also told us to realize that wherever that bullet goes, we are responsible for it."
William Hunt of Indian Wells Drive said he tried contacting authorities after hearing his neighbors' report of a female lion in heat as well as a mother lion with two cubs.
"The sheriff said if the animal is attacking your cats and dogs, and you shoot it, there may be difficulties for you from Fish and Game," Hunt said. "However, he said that if it is livestock, like sheep or cattle or goats or horses, there would be no repercussions."
Hunt said he called the local sheriff's office after he was not able to reach authorities in Sacramento, Fresno and Kern County. Hunt later reported he was able to speak with the environmental scientist, Victoria Monroe, and was told that she was aware of the situation.
Said Hunt, "She said she was aware of two families feeding the deer, which is a violation of state law; however, they had no knowledge of the situation they were creating by their actions. They have been contacted by her agency."
According to Lynn Cullens, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation, local residents need to be aware that they share neighborhoods with the mountain lions. The Sacramento-based nonprofit supports policies that ensure the long-term survival of mountain lions in their habitats.
"Most of California has mountain lions," said Cullens, adding, "that's not to minimize what these people went through. My heart goes out to people who lose a pet like that. We hear about it often, but the mountain lion is just being a mountain lion. It didn't decide to just eat neighborhood dogs."
Cullens said that once people start to look for mountain lions, they see mountain lions that were already there. She added that people are more aware of the animal due to social media, which only "makes it seem like something unusual is going on."
It isn't unusual to hear reports of several mountain lions cohabiting in the same general location, as territories can often overlap, she said.
"One of the things that we have found out is that they are not all that solitary," Cullens said. "A new study about the social behavior of mountain lions shows that mountain lions pair when they kill rather frequently, in fact more often than not. They are more tolerant and more commutative with one another more than we ever thought."
Cullens said local residents need not be alarmed by the recent sightings; however, an attack on a pet is rarely witnessed by the owner.
Said Cullens, "It's important to point out that what you are all experiencing isn't unusual. What is unusual is that somebody saw it because this has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. All of this has been happening all along, but it hasn't been captured on social cameras and we didn't have the means to communicate across neighborhoods like we do today. That's the real difference."
Cullens said pet owners need to take precautions, especially during times when sightings occur, such as not letting your pets go outside unattended, keeping your pet next to you on a short leash when you are outdoors, and not leaving food outdoors. She also suggests that homeowners make sure there are gaps no greater than four inches in their fences, gates and enclosures as mountain lions can squeeze through small spaces, and to ensure gates can't be lifted off the hinges.
Cullens welcomes emails from individuals who would like more information on how to secure their property as well as reporting attacks, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attacks on livestock and pets should also be reported by calling Victoria Monroe at the Department of Fish and Wildlife at 661-369-1615.