Tony, age 13, has been locked up at a truck stop by his owner, Michael Sandlin, since he was a cub. He has nothing to do but pace. When Big Cat Rescue sent people to visit him, they found a sad state of affairs:
the fumes were noxious and the sound of the dieseling trucks was deafening and unrelenting. There are flood light’s on the tiger’s cage so that he never has a minute of darkness and never gets a moment of peace from those who yell at him and throw things at him to make him move.
Tigers are nocturnal, so those 24/7 flood lights must really mess him up.
In the wild, Tony’s territory would measure up to 38 square miles. Check out how little room he gets at the truck stop:
Sandlin’s mistreatment of tigers is well known. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited him for giving tigers unsanitary food and dirty drinking water, denying them veterinary care and qualified caretakers, and not providing shelter from bad weather. Things got so bad in 2003 that three of Sandlin’s tigers were confiscated and rehomed in a sanctuary. ALDF reports that he was allowed to keep only one: Tony.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with several individuals, sued for Tony’s freedom, arguing that it would violate the law to renew Sandlin’s license to keep big cats. The judiciary agreed with ALDF and ruled that Sandlin must relinquish Tony.
The only move he has left in this case is to make a hopeless plea to the U.S. Supreme Court, which Sandlin has said he doesn’t plan to do. No federal laws are involved, ALDF says, so the Supreme Court couldn’t take the case anyway, and even if it had the legal authority to consider an appeal from Sandlin, the odds would be overwhelmingly against him: the Supreme Court accepts only about 1.2 percent of the appeals it receives every year.
Since Sandlin began exhibiting tigers, Louisiana law has changed: it now bans private ownership of dangerous exotic animals. Sandlin has used this change to open up a second legal front, suing the state for passing what he considers to be an unconstitutional law. Since that case is still pending, Tony is still stuck at the truck stop.
If and when Sandlin loses this second lawsuit and Tony wins his freedom, his fate will still be unclear. Owner Michael Sandlin says he will send the tiger to an unsavory zoo, G.W. Exotic Animal Park, also known as the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park. G.W. already has been hit with animal welfare violations.
The zoo doesn’t pretend that it is in the business of taking care of animals. Its owner says that what motivates him is not the welfare of the animals he has locked up, but his American right “to be able to own what I want to own.” In just one year, 23 tiger cubs died at G.W., CBS reports. The network’s video records G.W. employees smacking and dragging tiger cubs. It also shows big cats living in small cages on concrete floors.
ALDF has asked the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to keep Tony out of G.W. Exotic and send him instead to a sanctuary accredited by a respected organization. Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit sanctuary, has offered to take Tony in.
For now, Tony continues to pace his cage while judges decide whether Louisiana has the right to ban private individuals from owning dangerous exotic animals.
Photo credit: ALDF