The controversy surrounding efforts to free Tony, a Siberian-Bengal tiger who is being kept as a living attraction at a truck stop in Grosse Tete, La., has been going on for years. Despite years of advocacy work on his behalf to have him moved and legal victories that would have set him free, he’s still there waiting and now hope that he will be moved to a sanctuary lies with the governor vetoing a bill that will otherwise keep him there.
Tony’s advocates have continuously argued that a truck stop, where he’s constantly surrounded by noise and diesel fumes, is no place for a tiger. Tigers have been a thing at the truck stop since 1988, but during that time Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin has racked up a laundry list of violations of the Animal Welfare Act that range from mishandling tigers and failing to provide veterinary care to unsanitary feeding practices and not having properly trained employees.
Sandlin’s other tigers were removed as a result of his violations, but Tony was left behind and has been alone there since 2003.
In 2006, Louisiana passed a law that put limits on the possession of exotic big cats over concerns about cases like Tony’s, but grandfathered in people who already owned cats. Because Sandlin didn’t live on the property, he was ineligible for a permit. However, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) granted him a permit later after the Iberville Parish amended a local ordinance to allow him to keep Tony.
In 2010, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) got involved and sued the LDWF for illegally granting Sandlin a permit and won the case in 2011 when a judge ruled that Sandlin was actually ineligible for a permit under state regulations and ordered the LDWF to revoke Sandlin’s permit and not to issue him a new one.
In 2013, that decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals and later the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. Legally Sandlin lost the battle and Tony should have been moved, but somehow he got enough support from lawmakers to get a bill introduced that would undo every victory that has been won on Tony’s behalf.
Exempting “certain persons” (meaning Tony’s owner) would not only remove Tony’s legal protections, but it would allow an individual like Tony’s owner to undermine the judicial process. Aside from keeping Tony imprisoned, passing such a bill would send the dangerous message that if you don’t like a law, you can just hire some lobbyists to try to rewrite it ― in this case Louisiana’s ban on private ownership of tigers and other exotic cats.
Unfortunately for Tony, the bill passed and was sent to Governor Bobby Jindal for a signature. Tony’s advocates believe the state has wasted enough time and resources dealing with an issue that should have been resolved years ago and are now calling on him to veto it.
Please sign and share the petition asking Governor Bobby Jindal not to set a dangerous precedent by overriding previous court rulings and allowing one individual to skirt local and state laws regarding exotic animals at Tony’s expense.
Send the governor a message directly here.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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