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Northville Township — To the frightened woman who called police, the orange, white and black striped figure lying motionless near a fence behind her condo unit looked like a slumbering tiger.

Officers arrived and, concerned that a nearby elementary school was about to let children out for the day, began the process of locking down the neighborhood. A sergeant then gingerly approached the beast. As he got closer, he saw it wasn’t breathing.

That’s because it was a stuffed animal.

Police officials believe someone planted the stuffed tiger to pull off a hoax similar to recent pranks, including those in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

“You train for crucial situations, and we responded quickly and did what we were supposed to do — but thank God it turned out to be just a stuffed animal,” Northville Township Public Safety Director John Werth said. “Now, we can all have a little laugh about it.”

Werth said a woman called police at about 3 p.m. Wednesday to report the “tiger” behind the Highland Lakes Condominium complex, which is just south of 8 Mile Road, and about a mile west of I-275.

“There’s a wooded area behind the condos, and a fence; the woman said the tiger was lying near the fence,” Werth said. “The woman was terrified.”

Police arrived within minutes and began enacting emergency procedures, including going door-to-door to warn residents to say inside their homes, Werth said.

“Within about 20 minutes, we’d set up a perimeter,” Werth said. “Looking through binoculars, it looked like a real tiger, although it wasn’t moving at all. A sergeant walked up to it, and as he got closer, he saw that it was just a stuffed animal.

“That was pretty gutsy by the sergeant,” Werth said. “If it had been real, you’re talking about a dangerous situation — especially with elementary students about to be let out of school.

“The stuffed animal was near the fence line, covered up with brush,” Werth said. “Someone went to extremes to pull this off.”

Werth said there were similar incidents that turned out to be pranks, including a homeowner’s May 31 call to Grand Rapids Police about a tiger that turned out to also be a stuffed animal.

Police have to take such calls seriously, Werth said, because people often keep dangerous wild animals — alligators, poisonous snakes, and, sometimes, real tigers — as pets.

It’s not only illegal to keep wild animals as pets; it poses a danger to neighbors, and it’s not good for the animals, experts say.

Had the tiger been real, Werth said he would have tried to find it a home at the Detroit Zoo.

Instead, he said, everyone got a good laugh — although Werth wasn’t laughing about wasting his officers’ time.

“Pranks like this can drain a lot of resources,” he said. “In California, they actually deployed a helicopter after getting a report about a loose tiger. That’s a lot of waste to respond to a prank. But you can’t assume they’re pranks; you have to take these things seriously.

“Now, we’re making light of it,” Werth said. “I’m calling the sergeant ‘Tony the Tiger.’ We’re happy there wasn’t any real danger.”

GHunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

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