Seen a tiger in the Puyallup area? You aren't the only one
By early evening Thursday, at least three tigers were prowling around Puyallup.
The first vanished after two startled neighbors called 911. The second was stuffed, lounging on top of a white van. The third started a Twitter account.
“Paws too big for this phone,” Puyallup_Tiger tweeted at 5 p.m.
Gleeful pranks and a news media swarm followed the initial report – a seemingly genuine sighting of a genuine something, reported by Travis Johnson, who spotted a large mammal as he worked in the chicken coop.
“I saw a cat,” said Johnson, 28. “I’m afraid for my chickens and goats – 200-pound cat, a big boy. I asked around. I guess a lot of people have seen it. That freaks me out. We’re talking a cat that could bound 30 feet at a time.”
Johnson said he saw the animal on his neighbor’s property earlier in the afternoon and called 911. It was blond with black stripes, he said. Not a coyote, he was sure – he has seen those before, and shot at them.
“I am not seeing things,” he said.
A group of sheriff’s cars and vehicles from Pierce County Animal Control hovered around the scene in the 4400 block of Gay Road. Animal-control officers searched for two hours but found nothing, they said.
The surrounding area is a soggy wedge of rural land between Tacoma and Puyallup, bordered by River Road East and Pioneer Way East. Old farmhouses and barns dot the landscape, marking entrances to open fields. In late spring, the grass in some areas reaches waist-high. Beyond the fields looms the tree-laden slope of South Hill.
Johnson said other neighbors and family members told him they had seen the big cat in the past. They were surprised he hadn’t, he said. He mentioned that something killed one of his goats within the last year – something that slashed and left what looked like claw marks.
Surrounded by law enforcement and media cars, Johnson called out to a neighbor pulling into a driveway next door.
“Hey Doug, you ever seen any cats?”
“What?” Doug said.
“You ever seen any wild cats out back?”
Animal-control officers said they couldn’t find any neighbors to confirm what Johnson said, but some of them weren’t home. A neighbor two houses down declined to give his name, but he knew nothing about a big cat in the area.
“Ain’t never seen no tigers,” the man said.
Ed Troyer, Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman, said two people, including Johnson, reported the initial sighting, and it had to be checked.
“We’ve seen kangaroos, and alligators and vipers and everything else in Pierce County,” he said. “If there is a Bengal tiger here and that’s actually what it is, it’s gonna be somebody’s exotic pet that got out.”
Animal-control officers left the scene at Gay Road after their initial search. They discussed catching the cat. It would take a dart and special equipment. A big cat, if captured, would go to a sanctuary elsewhere in the region.
Karen Goodrowe Beck, general curator at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, said a large exotic cat could survive in the area, just as any feral cat could. Small rodents and rabbits would provide a food supply.
“I’m not going to negate it because I haven’t seen it,” she said. “It’s possible.”
Pranksters confused the scene after initial reports of the tiger sighting went viral online. Troyer took a picture of a stuffed tiger on top of a van that prompted a few phony reports.
Johnson said dogs in the neighborhood have gone crazy the last few nights.
“Ours have, too,” he said. “I mean berserk, like someone’s out front at two o’clock in the morning berserk.”