Brittney Speck woke up Wednesday to police lights and the sound of her dachshund “going crazy” in the back yard, she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She went to check on the dog and saw a tiger in her neighbor’s yard.
The tiger had been spotted about 6 a.m. on a highway in an Atlanta suburb, according to the Henry County Police Department. Police followed the big cat to Speck’s neighborhood, where it ran toward the back of a house and jumped a fence.
After the tiger jumped on the dog, the officers fired shots, Speck said. (Her dog, Journey, is okay.)
Police said in a statement that “with the tiger in close proximity to a school bus route in a densely populated area, officers made the decision to put the animal down with gunfire fearing that occupants of the home could be in danger as well as others in the area.”
How the tiger had gotten there would remain a mystery for most of the day.
“Tigers are not an indigenous species to Georgia,” said Gerri Yoder, director of Henry County Animal Care and Control.
“We don’t have exotic tiger breeders that are licensed in this area,” she told The Washington Post.
Zoo Atlanta and Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, a wildlife animal shelter in nearby Locust Grove, Ga., both said the tiger did not belong to them, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.
The officials at the sanctuary said it had intended to tranquilize the animal and take it in after receiving reports of a loose tiger.
“Unfortunately, human life became at risk and the tiger was shot by authorities,” Noah’s Ark said on its Facebook page.
By Wednesday afternoon, authorities had identified the tiger’s owners.
In response to news reports, the company transporting the tiger reached out to local law enforcement Wednesday afternoon, according to a police statement. The truck carrying the female Bengal tiger from Florida to Memphis had stopped overnight in Georgia when the tiger “escaped unnoticed.”
A spokesman for the company, Feld Entertainment, which owned Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, told the Journal-Constitution that Suzy, the 6-year-old tiger, was owned by a circus presenter.
Pet owners must obtain a license with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to own a tiger. Federal law also requires licensing with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to own big cats.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes illegal wildlife trade as a “multibillion-dollar” industry that involves unlawfully harvesting and trading animals and plants, or parts and products derived from them. Animals are usually traded for their skins and other body parts, or as pets.
Tigers, lions and other big cats are popular in the exotic pet trade, but owning them endangers both the animals and the community, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
“In captivity, big cats suffer immensely from being confined to cages that are magnitudes smaller than the vast distances they typically roam in the wild,” according to the Humane Society’s website. “Allowing private possession of these animals poses unnecessary and preventable risks to public safety — and to the welfare of animals themselves.”
The organization has tallied 306 big-cat attacks in 44 states from 1990 to 2012. A majority of them involved deaths and injuries to humans.