A man who broke into an abandoned house to smoke marijuana stumbled across more than he bargained for when he discovered a pet tiger inside.
Officers initially assumed the caller had smoked too much cannabis and was hallucinating, but soon discovered his report was entirely grounded in reality.
“They saw a tiger in this building, this vacant house that’s obviously been abandoned for some time,” said Sergeant Jason Alderete, the Houston Police Department’s animal unit.
“They were trying to get into this house to smoke marijuana. We questioned them as to whether they were under the effects of the drugs or they actually saw a tiger.”
After securing a warrant to search the property, officers did indeed find the overweight female tiger, which weighed about 160kg.
Despite the beast appearing “friendly” to the police, they decided to tranquilise her so she could be transferred to the city’s animal shelter.
Conditions in the abandoned home were very poor and the cage was far too small for the tiger to be living in, police said.
But there were also several packages of meat nearby, which suggested the tiger’s owner had not abandoned the pet entirely.
Heidi Krahn, the head of a local animal charity, told a local TV news channel she had arranged for the tiger to be rehomed at a specialist facility which is able to handle exotic pets.
“Finding a forever home for a tiger is not easy,” she said. “I tried to explain to people it’s a lot like having a child.”
But unlike human children, tigers, including those bred illegally to be pets, always pose a huge risk, she explained.
“They are basically a loaded gun pointed at anyone that encounters them,” she said. “They can be extremely dangerous.”
There are about 7,000 tigers living in captivity in the US, nearly twice as many as the estimated 3,800 still in the wild.
Although experts warn they are inappropriate pets, in many states – including Texas – the private trade of tigers is mostly unregulated.
Federal laws only ban the smuggling in of tigers, so those born to breeders inside the US are in many places so readily available they can be bought online.