By Tom Alex

Des Moines Register

November 16, 2007

The Chickasaw County sheriff and his deputies found themselves face to face with a tiger this week. Sheriff Marty Larsen said the deputy who shot and killed a tiger near the northeast Iowa town of New Hampton on Wednesday afternoon had no choice but to open fire. ‘We couldn’t think of any other way to corral a tiger,’ said Larsen. The drama began about 3 p.m. when the tiger rushed past its owner at feeding time and escaped from its cage. Larsen and two deputies rushed to Joseph and Dawn Schmitt’s home in rural New Hampton. ‘I’d never seen it before, but I knew it was out there,’ the sheriff said of the tiger.

The couple keep several animals on their property, including cougars, a bear, some birds and horses, he said. ‘When we arrived, the owner, Dawn Schmitt, was outside, and the tiger was on top of a collie. ‘She was trying to call off the tiger because the collie was being mauled. Poor dog. It was so scared. It ran to our cars, and the tiger chased it up to the deputy’s car,’ the sheriff said. Deputy Reed Palo shot the tiger through a partially opened window of his vehicle. Asked what kind of tiger it was, Larsen said, ‘I don’t know. Bengal, I guess.’ He said he believes the tiger was a juvenile, ‘but appeared to be pretty much full grown.’ The dog is going to survive, the sheriff said. ‘She took it to a vet. The dog is OK. It drew a lot of blood. Mostly superficial wounds, though.’

Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature passed a law regulating exotic and wild animals in Iowa, said Dustin Vande Hoef, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Those who already owned the animals can keep them, provided they obtain $100,000 in liability insurance, have a chip or electronic identification implanted in the animals, and register them with the Iowa Department of Agriculture by Dec. 31. However, the law prevents Iowans from legally owning new exotic and wild animals. Tammy Quist, director of the Wildcat Sanctuary at Sandstone, Minn., said private ownership of exotic cats has reached epidemic proportions. ‘You can buy a Bengal tiger at a truck stop. You can find them advertised for $500 and sometimes ‘free to a good home,’ ‘ she said. ‘It’s just astonishing how many backyard breeders there are.’ Dawn Schmitt declined to speak to a newspaper reporter Thursday.