Alarmed residents made multiple calls to 911 on Wednesday after seeing the animal, said Capt. Joey Smith of Henry County police. For hours, people wondered how the female tiger came to roam through several locations near Interstate 75 and Jodeco Road in the metro Atlanta county.
Police eventually shot the tiger dead after she attacked a dog.
Feld Entertainment, which had been contracted to move the tiger, said it does not know how Suzy got out while she was being transported from Tampa, Florida, to Memphis, Tennessee.
A truck carrying the 6-year-old Suzy had made a stop in Georgia overnight, officials said.
She was last seen by her caretakers on Tuesday night, said Feld Entertainment spokesman Stephen Payne.
The company realized the tiger was missing when the truck arrived in Tennessee, and it contacted law enforcement, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said. Feld Entertainment is a live show company that operated the closed Ringling Bros. circus.
The animal's owner had planned to fly the cat to Germany to be part of another circus, Payne said.
One of those who called 911 was Brittney Speck. She woke up to police activity outside her house and high beams coming through her windows as authorities searched for the tiger. When she poked her head out her front door, she was instructed by police to go back inside, so she did.
Speck said her dog, who was in her backyard, was barking hysterically.
"I've never heard her bark like that before," Speck said.
From her backyard, Speck said she could see the tiger in her neighbor's backyard, roaming around a minivan. Once she saw where it was, Speck said she called 911 to give authorities the tiger's location.
At the moment she hung up with 911, the tiger jumped the fence into Speck's yard and went toward her dog.
"I fell to the ground crying because my husband was screaming because the tiger had jumped on top of my dog," she said. Speck said her dog managed to get away from the tiger and was running around as police closed in.
"By the time (the tiger) had jumped on my dog, the officer had started firing rounds."
"When the tiger became aggressive toward pets in the area, it was deemed necessary for public safety to put it down, and it was done quickly and humanely," Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark McKinnon said.
Speck's dog, a dachshund named Journey, suffered a few scratches but is going to be OK, she said.
The tiger was cremated, said Gerri Yoder, director of the Henry County Animal Care and Control Department.
"It's a very sad day. This tiger was raised by its owner since it was a cub. Clearly, this was a tragic accident," Payne said.
State officials have contacted the tiger's owner. Feld Entertainment said it was cooperating with authorities. The Department of Natural Resources said the investigation is ongoing.