Have You Met Your New Neighbor?

Let’s say it’s a Sunday evening Houston, TX in early May, around 8pm.  The family’s had dinner, kids are in their rooms playing video games, and your husband has turned on the TV to stream…whatever.

Just another Sunday evening in Houston.

Until you glance out your front window, and see this:

Yes, that’s a tiger.

There’s a tiger in your front yard.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d have two reactions:

As a resident of Houston, you may be aware that it’s legal to own tigers in your state.  However, individual jurisdictions can set their own guidelines, and being in possession of a tiger in Houston is against city code.

I’m betting that the guy pictured below (right) was aware of Houston’s city code.  This is Victor Hugo Cuevas, whom police allege is the tiger s owner, and who whisked away the big cat in a car that May evening:

Cuevas (right) and his attorney Michael Elliott in court on May 14, 2021.

At a news conference, Houston Police Commander Ron Borza said that Cuevas’ wife, Giorgiana, turned over the tiger to police after a friend of hers reached out to officials at BARC Animal Shelter.

“It is Victor’s tiger,” said Borza.  “That’s what I was told by (Giorgiana Cuevas) …She says they’ve had that animal for nine months.”  He alleged that the tiger was passed around to different people, but that Cuevas’ wife knew where the tiger was at all times as authorities searched for it.

We also learned that the tiger’s name is India, he’s nine months old, and weighs 175 pounds.

We know that – but India doesn’t know he’s just a baby.

India does know that tigers raw meat, and lots of it.

Prey on two legs, four legs – tigers are flexible.

And there India was, strolling around a neighborhood where, as one resident put it,

“It was very scary, because this a very family-oriented community and you see lots of kids and baby-strolling, and people taking their pets and walking them, so the first thing I thought was to alert the community so everybody would stay home.”

Cuevas was arrested by Houston police and charged with evading arrest for allegedly fleeing his home with the tiger. 

It turns out this isn’t his first run-in with the law.  At the time of his arrest by Houston police, Cuevas was out on bond for a murder charge in a 2017 fatal shooting in neighboring Fort Bend County.  Cuevas has maintained the shooting was self-defense.

So Cuevas was already lawyered-up, in this case attorney Michael W. Elliott:

With regards to the tiger, Elliott insists that Cuevas doesn’t own India:

“Victor was not the primary owner of India nor did India stay with him the majority of the time.  Victor was, however, involved in the caretaking of India often.  Victor loves India as anyone else would love a favorite pet…He treated India with love and fantastic treatment in all respects.”

It appears that Elliott is overlooking (or ignoring) the language in Houston’s Code of Ordinances, Article III, Sec. 6-52 which doesn’t talk about ownership, but rather possession of:

“It is unlawful for any person to be in possession of a wild animal.”

The Code’s definition of “wild animal” includes tigers.

Elliott also said Cuevas did nothing illegal because Texas has no statewide law forbidding private ownership of tigers and other exotic animals – again overlooking (or ignoring) Houston’s Code of Ordinances.

Apparently Attorney Elliott’s overlooking/ignoring worked – Cuevas was released on a separate bond for the evading arrest charge.

But prosecutors in Fort Bend County then sought to have him held with no bond on the 2017 murder charge. 

After an all-day hearing, a judge revoked Cuevas’ current $125,000 bond on the murder charge and issued a new bond for $300,000.  As of this writing, Cuevas remains jailed.

And India?

India is now being cared for at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary in Murchison, TX. According to Noelle Almrud, the sanctuary’s senior director:

“Black Beauty Ranch will provide safe sanctuary for India and give him a proper diet, enrichment, an expansive naturally wooded habitat where he can safely roam and will provide everything else he needs to be the healthy wild tiger he deserves to be.”

Hopefully, a happy ending for India.

This story brings to mind an old ad for gasoline company that urged consumers to “Put A Tiger In Your Tank”:

I’d say this time around, the tiger put Cuevas in the tank:

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