I want to tell you about what happened here summer before last. It's been two years but I still think about it every time I walk down this road, the road that goes past Ronnie's house and down by the lake.
Ronnie was the first one we heard the story from. He was working in his backyard when he had the feeling he was being watched. His dog was staring into the woods behind the house, the way dogs do when they see something they don't understand. Ronnie stood up and looked, seeing nothing at first. Then it moved and he saw it. It was a tiger.
Now Ronnie always has a good story to tell but if you could have heard him tell this story you would have been convinced too. And something had certainly put a long gash in his dog's shoulder. I was working part time at town hall as the water clerk at that time and about a week later a lady came in to pay her water bill and asked if we had heard about the tiger. Her friend who lived on fifth street (I live on third) had warned her to be careful because she had seen a tiger walking across the yards early one morning. Another week another lady, who lived in a more isolated area away from town, came in and said she thought there was a big cougar (Alabama doesn't officially have cougars either) around because she had seen big cat footprints in the dust on a table in her yard, and something had mauled her dog, which was in the fenced yard.
No one had reported losing a tiger but stories continued throughout the summer. Dogs killed by a big animal. Tracks in the mud around the lake. I personally talked to a LOT of people who had seen something.
Now you can imagine the excitement this caused. But then you'd be wrong because seeing a tiger in the Alabama woods is like reporting a UFO or a bigfoot sighting. Oh our little town was all a buzz but the Sheriff's department was not interested and referred calls to county animal control, who basically said, "What do you want us to do about it?" They referred people to Auburn University which has a department in charge of investigating unusual wildlife sightings. They did say they were aware of the problem and were looking for it. The story never made it to the news.
Where did it come from? The word was that a man who lived on several acres on the edge of town and was known to have some exotic animals, was the one who lost it and didn't report it because he didn't have a permit and would face stiff penalties for illegally possessing a wild animal. What happened? Nothing. The stories stopped when Winter came and as far as anyone knows it was never found. It may have been captured but that never made it to the news either. I certainly quit walking my dog down the road where it had been seen.
I wish I had a better conclusion for this story. But that's the way it goes; loose ends don't always get tied up neatly. An unfinished episode of life in our small town. I only wish I had seen it.
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