Live tiger at Detroit Packard Plant causes uproar

Holly Fournier and Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Detroit — When Andy Didorosi was asked if he’d like to help at a photo shoot where there would be models, he jumped at the chance.

It turns out they weren’t human models.

Instead it was a tiger, two wolves and a bobcat being used in an authorized shoot at the old Packard Plant by United Kingdom-based photographer David Yarrow, according to Kari Smith, director of development at the Packard Plant.

But the animals were not part of the approved deal, Smith said.

“The shoot was authorized. The animals were not authorized,” Smith said. “They had two days, waivers and fees paid for a basic photo shoot. Nothing else. There was no mention of any animals on site.”

The illicit menagerie was discovered on the south side of the property around 9 a.m. Monday by security guards checking the group for identification and permits to shoot, Smith said.

One member of the shooting crew was Detroit Bus Co. president Andy Didorosi, whose office overlooks the plant.

“A friend was asked to help with the shoot, but the tiger was stuck on a staircase and didn’t want to move,” Didorosi said. “So my friend decided ‘hey, who do I know who has tools and is dumb enough to come over and try and scare a tiger?’ So he called me.”

Didorosi was asked if he had a leafblower that could be used to spur the tiger into action.

He didn’t, so he grabbed the next most tiger intimidating tool he had handy: a small, electric-powered weed whacker.

“He just batted it aside,” Didorosi said. “Then they asked us to pick up this big blue tarp and make scary animal noises because the tiger was used to human noises. The goal was to spook him down the stairs and to his trainer.”

But neither the weedwhacker nor the tarp had any effect on the tiger, which Didorosi described as friendly but pretty darned big.

“Then the photographer and his crew left for lunch,” Didorosi said. “They just said: ‘See ya; you guys want anything?’ ”

After the crew left, the trainer got the big cat back in his trailer and Didorosi went back to his office.

According to Smith, the wolves and bobcat never left their cages.

“Everyone that was back there had a legal waiver to be on site, except the animals,” Smith said. “This is not a site that’s safe for animals, nor would we condone animals being on site.”

Smith said she immediately shut down the photo shoot once she was informed by the guards. Police also responded, drawn to the scene by social media posts referring to a tiger on the loose at the plant.

“You can’t bring jungle animals on site and expect to continue the shoot,” Smith said.

The group of about a dozen people, including two animal trainers, were off the premises with the animals by 10 a.m.

“I think the main thing is, the situation was taken care of,” Smith said. “No animals were hurt; the photo shoot was canceled; they won’t be invited back.”

Security guard Anton Ferrell said he spotted the animals while checking the group for permits.

“I thought I was looking at a zoo,” said Ferrell, who works for Sterling Security patrolling the plant. “It was something else. It was something different.”

Two wolves sat in one pen while the bobcat was caged nearby, Ferrell said. He did not see the tiger.

“I got on the phone immediately to call the boss,” Ferrell said, adding the group did not resist when told to leave.

“It went well. They left; no problems.”

The animals were supplied by Animals of Montana, Smith said. The company is described on its website as a full-service agency providing various creatures to photographers and the movie industry.

“I’m not sure if what they did was against the law, although that is private property,” said Ryan McTigue, director of communications for the Michigan Humane Society.

Most of the 3.5-million-square-foot Packard Plant space was bought by Spanish investor Fernando Palazuelo from Peru for just over $400,000. His group has begun to clear out debris, the first step in a 10- to 15-year plan to find new life for the 40-acre site.

“It kind of bums me out that they had this gigantic fierce animal loose in our city,” Didorosi said. “They figured they could do it without permission and that was their impression of our city.”

According to Didorosi, the tiger was pretty cool about the whole situation.

“He was growling the whole time, but I think he just wanted people to leave him alone,” Didorosi said. “This whole thing really shook up the usual Monday blahs.”

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