Escaped emu takes owner and police on 20-mile chase in Tennessee

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(TENNESSEE) — A city-wide manhunt.

A police chase down the main street.

Social media sites filled with locals describing what they had just witnessed.

While these are usually the tell-tale signs of crisis, the small city of Harriman, Tennessee, witnessed a different kind of community-wide commotion on Wednesday when a local man’s pet emu escaped and prompted a slow-speed police chase to capture the giant bird.

“People were calling in that it was in their yard, and the first part of the morning, officers would go check and wouldn’t see him,” Harriman police chief Baron Tapp said. “And then somebody else would call and say, ‘Hey, the Emu is in my yard now’ or ‘It’s going over here over there."”

“People were calling in that it was in their yard, and the first part of the morning, officers would go check and wouldn’t see him,” Harriman police chief Baron Tapp said. “And then somebody else would call and say, ‘Hey, the Emu is in my yard now’ or ‘It’s going over here over there."”

The emu at the center of the commotion was MeeMoo of Harriman. Software programmer Harry McKinney helped hatch MeeMoo five years ago when a local hatchery’s incubator broke. McKinney described raising the emu on his 40-acre farm alongside sheep, turkeys, ducks, and other animals as a joy, or at least when MeeMoo stays in his enclosure.

He said that Wednesday’s escape began when MeeMoo hopped over his seven-foot enclosure fence.

“They have a flight or flight reflex, and he chose flight,” McKinney said. “He chose to run.”

Nearby residents tried to help spot MeeMoo, but after initial efforts failed, McKinney turned to social media for help locating the tall bird.

“The only thing we could do was put it on Facebook and just wait until somebody saw, and that did not disappoint,” McKinney said.

Steven McDaniel was planning on taking his dog for a car ride on Wednesday when he noticed the commotion in the normally quiet town.

“I went over, looked out, and there’s cop cars driving by at about three miles an hour,” he said.

McDaniel took out his phone to film and post a video of four police cruisers slowly driving behind the emu to capture the bird. The chase ended when the officers cornered MeeMoo near a local home surrounded by hedges. McKinney was enlisted to end the pursuit, calling his pet emu back to safety.

“I whistled, and he realized that dad was there,” he said. “And I went up, and I gave him a big hug.”

According to McKinney, the entire search took seven hours and stretched across 20 miles. No one was injured, and most residents appeared delighted by the affair, though some were slightly intimidated by confronting the five-foot tall bird.

“He just would hold its feathers like hold its wings straight out and come at you like ‘oh gosh, did it get mad or what,"” Tapp said about some of his officers’ encounters with MeeMoo.

While McKinney spoke affectionately about MeeMoo, he conceded that the emu could be intimidating.

“For us, he’s like a dog,” he said. “But for people that had never seen any emus before, it was a T-Rex coming down the sidewalk at them.”

Upon returning to his enclosure (now being reinforced with higher walls to prevent another escape), McKinney said MeeMoo immediately returned to his nest to care for his eggs. MeeMoo and his partner MeeMee are caring for multiple eggs, meaning that a new generation of emus might be antagonizing police in Harriman soon.

With video of the incident circulating widely on social media, many community members reacted with laughter and joy; even Tapp, whose police force had to confront the large bird, described the incident as a “good time” that brought the community together.

“We’ve had a lot of stuff going on here in Tennessee – the shootings in Nashville – we’ve had a couple of shootings here…,” McDaniel said. “It’s been a great thing for us as a community to be able to have a couple days [that bring] a smile on your face instead of just heartbreak.”

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