It was like “Home Alone,” but instead of an 8-year-old boy setting traps to keep burglars out of his house, a 2-year-old tiger stopped a marijuana smoker from lighting up in private.
That started a chain of events Monday that ended with the tiger, left alone in a small cage in an abandoned house in Houston, being taken away for proper care at an animal sanctuary.
“This is not the first tiger that we have been called out to investigate,” said Lara Cottingham, chief of staff of the city’s administration and regulatory affairs department. “In the City of Houston you cannot keep exotic animals, including a tiger.”
The big cat was found by someone who had tried to sneak into the house to smoke marijuana and reported the discovery to Houston’s Animal Shelter and Adoption Facility, known as BARC, authorities said.
Houston police officers and animal control agents arrived at the home and met the person who found the tiger. That person was not identified by authorities.
When the officers arrived at the home, “they could hear the tiger, they could smell it, but they needed a warrant to get into the house,” Cottingham said.
Animal control obtained a warrant and entered the home to find the tiger in a cage in the garage.
“They were able to remove the tiger from the building and took it to BARC,” Cottingham said. “It must have been quite an experience.”
The tiger — whose sex has not been announced — was tranquilized and transported in the back of a horse trailer. It made it to the animal shelter safely and slept through the night.
The animal was then transported to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, according to a statement from the Humane Society of the United States. The ranch has more than 800 animals, including two tigers, the Humane Society said. One was rescued from a breeder, and the other is a former pet.
Authorities are still trying to find the owner of the tiger. No arrests have been made, and any charges against the owner will “depend on what the investigation uncovers,” said Kese Smith, a spokesman for the Houston Police Department.
Heidi Krahn, founder and executive director of the Center for Animal Research and Education, a nonprofit organization in Texas that looks after exotic animals in need and is home to more than 20 tigers, said she saw the allure of having a tiger as a pet, but emphasized the risk.
“When a baby tiger is born, they weigh about 2 pounds, they are very helpless, and they are very cute,” Krahn said. “They become dependent on people, but by the time they are 8 weeks old, they can eat chicken bones. By the time they are 4 months old, they can eat a calf, which is approximately the size of a human.”
It usually costs about $1.2 million to raise a tiger through its 20-year life span, according to Krahn, and she estimated that they could cost $5,000 or less to buy illegally.
“They are not worth anything,” she said. “They are a liability.”