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NY Times: A Tiger, a Truck Stop and a Pitched Legal Battle   Leave a comment

nyt tony

Tony, a Bengal-Siberian tiger, is kept on the premises at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La. Web sites have been created urging Tony’s removal, letters have been written, and public officials have been lobbied.

By
Published: March 27, 2013

GROSSE TETE, La. — The American truck stop is a promise of certain reliables: a shower, a warm meal, some small talk at the counter, a 24/7 source of diesel, beef jerky and cigarettes.

The truck stop here just west of Baton Rouge offers all those things, but as most southern Louisianians know, it has another less standard feature: a 550-pound Bengal-Siberian tiger.

Tony is only the latest in a line of tigers to live here. Thirteen cubs were born at the truck stop, and several adult tigers brought in, including a white tiger named Salena who died of pancreatic cancer in the early 2000s and is now stuffed and sitting in the Tiger Cafe atop the salad bar.

Tony, who is 12 years old, spends his days draped languidly on top of his cinder-block den or pacing around the grass in his 40-foot-by-80-foot caged enclosure on one side of the parking lot, seemingly as unriveted by the truckers as they are by him.

He also appears unmoved by his role at the center of a costly and complicated legal dispute, pitting claims of property rights against animal rights and prompting regular news reports about his impending removal. The legal fight has gone on for years. Tony remains.

“It’s become more of a liability than an asset,” said Michael Sandlin, 50, who has run the truck stop for the past 25 years. “But it’s not the money. It’s the principle.”

The Tiger Truck Stop has long been a thorn in the paw of animal rights organizations and many animal lovers generally. Web sites have been created urging Tony’s removal, letters have been written, public officials lobbied. Robert Barham, the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, described “cases of mail from every state and a host of foreign countries.” Still, he said, state veterinarians sent to inspect Tony invariably returned with reports of good health.

Matthew Liebman, a lawyer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in California, acknowledged that Tony’s situation was not the worst he had ever seen, though he and others worry about the tiger’s constant exposure to exhaust and diesel fumes.

“The bottom line for us is that tigers don’t belong in truck stops,” Mr. Liebman said. “I think it reflects a pretty commodified, objectifying view of animals that we don’t support — that they are objects of entertainment, that they are gimmicks to sell gasoline.”

In 2006, the state passed a law that put limits on “big exotic cat” possession, but allowed anyone who owned such a cat at the time to be grandfathered in. Mr. Sandlin, who had kept tigers here for nearly two decades, was granted a permit for Tony. But in a 2011 trial, lawyers for the animal defense fund showed that a parish law that was on the books in 2006 prohibited keeping exotic animals and argued that he should not have been exempted from the new law. The judge agreed and ordered Mr. Sandlin’s state permit revoked.

Mr. Sandlin, who still has a federal permit, has appealed the decision, and has also filed a separate lawsuit arguing that the state law itself is unconstitutional because it is applied unevenly and leaves too much discretion to enforcement officials.

Still, he has been looking for a retirement home for Tony. This search generated its own outcry when he said he was leaning toward a wildlife park in Oklahoma owned by a man who calls himself Joe Exotic, but whose real name is Joe Schreibvogel.

Mr. Schreibvogel’s park has attracted a good deal of controversy itself and is being investigated by federal officials for 23 tiger cub deaths. But Mr. Sandlin said he believed that it provided good care, and did not trust others to know what was good for Tony.

“He’s used to the noise from the Interstate and the trucks,” Mr. Sandlin said. “He’s used to people coming up here and looking at him.”

“To tear him away from this,” he said, breaking off, then added, “I think it would be very cruel because that’s what he’s used to.”

Mr. Sandlin and his opponents see the world rather differently. The phrase “animal rights activist,” particularly if it means someone who would ban the private ownership of exotic animals, is to Mr. Sandlin a disparagement on its face. (A T-shirt for sale in the truck stop store reads “Animal Rights Activists Taste Like Chicken.”)

But he takes no offense when critics deride him as a purveyor of roadside entertainment. He considers himself an ally of the traveling circuses that occasionally stop here, and he allows the elephants to graze out back.

The idea of a tiger truck stop had been his father’s, but opening one here seemed particularly apt given that the mascot of nearby Louisiana State University is a tiger. (The university keeps its own tiger, Mike VI, in an enclosure next to the football stadium.)

So in 1988, Mr. Sandlin arrived from Houston with Toby and Rainbow, he a mostly Bengal mix, she a purebred Siberian. In 2000, after the sale of a tiger truck stop owned by Mr. Sandlin’s father in West Texas, Toby and Rainbow were joined by Tony and Salena.

In the ensuing years, the United States Department of Agriculture issued several citations to the truck stop, among other things for allowing cubs to run loose around the office. Mr. Sandlin paid a fine and sold all the tigers but Tony.

About 35 people work at the truck stop, including a sister of Michael Sandlin’s; a brother-in-law; a niece; a nephew; Mr. Sandlin’s mother, Virginia, who handles billing; and his domestic partner of 26 years, Scott Holbrook, who is the vice president of the truck stop as well as the video poker manager.

There is also a middle-aged man named Ray Jackson, who buses tables at the restaurant and who will sing on command. Seeing him outside the Tiger Cafe, Mr. Sandlin said the word and Mr. Jackson stopped immediately and sang “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.”

“People get a kick out of that,” Mr. Sandlin said.

For now, there is the wait for a ruling. An immediate change is unlikely even then, but as a breed, the tiger truck stop’s days may be numbered.

“There are certainly some substandard roadside zoos,” Mr. Liebman said. “But this is the only truck stop tiger I know of.”

Photos: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/03/26/us/TIGER.html?ref=us

Direct Link To Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/us/truck-stop-tiger-in-louisiana-stirs-legal-battle.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Tony’s Petition ~ Nearing 25,000: http://www.change.org/petitions/ldwf-ensure-tony-the-tiger-is-released-to-a-reputable-sanctuary

Judge denies tiger appeal   Leave a comment

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS Tony, the Siberian-Bengal tiger on display at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, on Dec. 2, 2010.

BY JOE GYAN JR.
Advocate staff writer
May 05, 2012

A judge refused Thursday to order the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to remove Tony the 550-pound tiger from a Grosse Tete truck stop enclosure where he has been kept for more than a decade.

State District Judge Mike Caldwell cited the separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of government, and also said the Animal Legal Defense Fund and several other individually named plaintiffs lacked legal standing to try to compel LDWF to take action against the truck stop.

ALDF attorney Erin Pelleteri argued during a hearing that Tiger Truck Stop’s state permit for the Siberian-Bengal tiger expired Dec. 31. She said Michael Sandlin, owner of the Iberville Parish truck stop, is “blatantly’’ violating Louisiana law and endangering the public, and should be prosecuted.

“There is no permit in place. Mr. Sandlin is in violation of the law,’’ Pelleteri argued. “The department is doing nothing.’’

Jennifer Treadway Morris, an attorney for Sandlin and his truck stop, countered that the facility has a federal permit to house the tiger. She also disputed Pelleteri’s safety allegation.

“There is no public safety concern here,’’ Morris told the judge.

Sandlin, who attended the hearing, said afterward he loves tigers.

“I love Tony. I love (LSU’s) Mike the tiger,’’ he said. “The people of Grosse Tete want Tony to stay.’’

LDWF attorney Fred Whitrock argued during the hearing that ALDF and the individual plaintiffs, including Baton Rouge resident Brandi Sutten, have no direct interest in the outcome of the case but are merely morally opposed to Tony being displayed at the truck stop off Interstate 10.

“That is not sufficient for legal standing,’’ he said.

Sutten testified she visits Tony from time to time and finds it “emotionally draining’’ to see a tiger housed near an interstate, something she considers “inappropriate’’ and “absolutely crazy.’’

Morris told Sutten there are neighborhoods closer to Exxon’s Baton Rouge refinery than Tony is to the highway. After Sutten testified she has never visited Mike the tiger at LSU, Morris asked her if she is generally opposed to tigers being kept in cages or just opposed to Tony the truck stop tiger.

“Just Tony,’’ she acknowledged.

In response to an earlier ALDF lawsuit against LDWF, Caldwell last year barred the state agency from issuing any new permits to Tiger Truck Stop to keep 11-year-old Tony there. Sandlin has appealed that ruling to the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.

Caldwell said a state permit can be issued only to an individual, not a corporation, and Tiger Truck Stop is the permit holder, not Sandlin.

If Sandlin’s appeal is ultimately denied, LDWF has said it would give Sandlin 30 days to move Tony to a sanctuary of Sandlin’s choosing.

Sandlin, in a suit he filed against the state and Iberville Parish in January, is challenging the constitutionality of a 2006 state law that banned private ownership of large and exotic cats.

The state law includes a grandfather exception that allows people to keep exotic cats as pets as long as the animals were legally owned before Aug. 15, 2006, when the law went into effect.

ALDF contends Tony was not legally owned by Tiger Truck Stop before that date because a 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance prohibits anyone from owning wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or exhibition.

Sandlin’s suit also says the ordinance is unconstitutional. He argues the ordinance does not have an exception for persons with proper permits under federal law.

ALDF has filed a petition to intervene in Sandlin’s suit. State District Judge Janice Clark is scheduled to hold a hearing on that request Monday.

http://theadvocate.com/home/2727217-125/judge-denies-tiger-appeal

Group sues over Tony   Leave a comment

Tony at Tiger Truck Stop December 2011 - Photo: The Advocate

BY JOE GYAN JR.
Advocate staff writer
April 07, 2012

An animal rights group asked a Baton Rouge judge Thursday to order the state to put a stop to an Iberville Parish truck stop’s “unlawful possession’’ of a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, which sued the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in April 2011, filed another suit Thursday against LDWF and noted that the judge in the first suit barred the state agency last year from issuing any new permits to Tiger Truck Stop to keep 11-year-old Tony there.

The truck stop’s state permit for Tony expired Dec. 31.

Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin, however, has appealed state District Judge Mike Caldwell’s ruling in the first suit to the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. Caldwell’s judgment is not final until the appeals process runs its course.

If Sandlin’s appeal is ultimately denied, LDWF has said it would give Sandlin 30 days to move Tony to a sanctuary of Sandlin’s choosing.

In its latest suit assigned to state District Judge Janice Clark, the Animal Legal Defense Fund wants LDWF to enforce Louisiana’s 2006 ban on private ownership of large and exotic cats and report Sandlin to local law enforcement for prosecution.

Sandlin is challenging the 2006 state law.

“The state of Louisiana has explicit regulations designed to protect tigers like Tony, and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is required to enforce them,’’ ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said.

“The court has already granted Tony and ALDF a victory by ruling that Michael Sandlin’s permit to display Tony was illegal.

“Sandlin, now without a permit, cannot be allowed to continue to exploit this tiger with impunity,’’ Wells added.

Sandlin, who filed his own suit in January against the state and Iberville Parish in a last-ditch effort to continue keeping Tony on display at the truck stop, said Thursday he is “disappointed that ALDF is continuing with this fight.’’

“ALDF is more concerned about promoting its animal rights agenda than they are about Tony,’’ he charged, reiterating that Tony is well cared for.

Amanda Larkins, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, said the office could not comment on the pending litigation.

ALDF also filed a petition Thursday to intervene in Sandlin’s suit against the state and Iberville Parish.

In that suit, Sandlin says he and his truck stop have held a federal permit since 1988 to keep tigers at the facility. Tony has been there for 10 years.

Jennifer Treadway Morris, one of Sandlin’s and Tiger Truck Stop’s attorneys, said Thursday the federal permit that allows Tony to be kept at the truck stop is the same type of permit that LSU has to display Mike the Tiger on its Baton Rouge campus.

Caldwell ruled that Tony is not permitted by state law to remain at the truck stop off Interstate 10.

The judge said a state permit can be issued only to an individual, not a corporation, and Tiger Truck Stop is the permit holder, not Sandlin.

http://theadvocate.com/home/2501645-125/group-sues-over-truck-stop-tiger

Animal rights group takes new tack versus Sandlin   Leave a comment

Photo Used With Permission of & © & M. Haik

Written by: Walter Pierce 
Monday, 15 August 2011

The California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund is seeking to enlist a new partner in its effort to keep up the pressure on Michael Sandlin, owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete: Louisiana State University.

A Baton Rouge judge last May granted a permanent injunction preventing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries from renewing Sandlin’s license to keep Tony, a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger, in a 700-square-foot enclosure at his business off Interstate 10. A defiant Sandlin has fought for years to keep Tony caged at his shabby station and, in perhaps a sign that he intends to fight this thing until the very end, recently further capitalized on his proximity to LSU by painting Tony’s den and enclosure purple and gold — the familiar color scheme of Louisiana’s flagship university.

The ALDF recently brought the new paint job to LSU’s attention, hoping to convince the university to take action against Sandlin for trademark violation, according to ALDF Director of Communications Lisa  Franzetta, who says LSU has “ assured us they are investigating the matter.”

In a recent letter to Brian Hommel, LSU’s director of trademark licensing, ALDF staff attorney Matthew Liebman lays out the group’s case:

Not only does the Tiger Truck Stop confine a tiger, the LSU mascot, in conditions many consider inhumane, it has also appropriated the official LSU colors, purple and gold. The truck stop’s large sign and external façade are purple and gold, as are Tony’s transport trailer and a sign hung on Tony’s cage. The truck stop also just painted Tony’s den purple and gold.  The juxtaposition of the LSU colors with a tiger is certainly no coincidence, and it risks associating LSU with a controversial and inhumane exhibit. As you know well, LSU has spent extensive resources to improve its image on tiger welfare, and the Tiger Truck Stop’s infringement on LSU’s color combination and mascot endangers those efforts. Failure to remedy this infringement could be seen as an LSU endorsement of Tony’s captivity.

http://www.theind.com/news/8840-animal-rights-group-takes-new-tack-versus-sandlin

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