If you haven’t heard of Tony, he’s a 10-year-old Siberian Bengal tiger living at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La., who’s being kept as an attraction by his owner Michael Sandlin.
Tony’s life is pretty sad for a big cat. He lives in a concrete cage where he is harassed by visitors and surrounded by lights, the smell of fuel and the sound of diesel engines 24 hours a day seven days a week with nowhere to escape and nothing to do. He’s been alone since 2003.
Unbeknownst to Tony, who spends his time pacing his cage, activists have been fighting for years to no avail to have him freed and sent to a wildlife preserve.
Despite thousands of letters and signatures on petitions to free Tony and a petition from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries recently renewed Sandlin’s permit to keep Tony.
Last week, the ALDF stepped up to intervene on Tony’s behalf by filing a lawsuit against the LDWF and its secretary Robert Barham arguing that granting Sandlin a permit in the first place violated state law.
Warren Triche, a former Louisiana Representative, who authored the state’s law that led to the ban on the private ownership of tigers and two other residents are co-plaintiffs.
Sandlin, who has 20 years worth of USDA violations under his belt, was previously violating an ordinance that prevented people from owning or displaying wild or exotic animals. It also prevented the LDWF from issuing him a permit to own Tony. When he was given 30 days to find Tony a new home, he filed a lawsuit.
The Iberville Parish Council decided to amend the ordinance making it legal to keep a tiger, instead of enforcing their own laws, which meant Tony was stuck.
“The regulations provided an exception, however: individuals who legally owned big cats as of August 15, 2006, were grandfathered in. These owners would need to apply for an annual permit from the LDWF. An ordinance passed in Sandlin’s parish of Iberville in 1993 made it illegal for anyone to keep a tiger or other large exotic cat on his or her premises for exhibition. In other words, Sandlin did not qualify for the exception because he was not in legal possession of Tony. In addition, Sandlin is ineligible for the state’s grandfathering provision because he does not live on the premises where Tony is kept, contrary to regulations,” according to the ALDF.
“Despite the fact that Sandlin was ineligible for a grandfather permit, the LDWF nonetheless issued him one. ALDF is taking the department to court to invalidate this illegally-issued permit. — and free Tony from his troubled life at the truck stop.”
Sign the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s petition asking the LDWF to revoke Sandlin’s permit.