Video Courtesy of The Animal Legal Defense Fund
Video Courtesy of Big Cat Rescue of Tampa FL
Tony is a 13-year old Siberian/Bengal tiger used as a roadside attraction at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete Louisiana. Tony is an example of the serious problem of privately owned tigers in the United States whose numbers exceed tigers left in the wild. Tony’s owner, Michael Sandlin, has bought, sold, bred, and exhibited tigers for over 20 years. In 2003, because of violations and fines, Mr. Sandlin and the USDA made an agreement where 3 of the 4 tigers he owned, Toby, Khan and Rainbow, were sent to Tiger Haven in Kingston TN. The USDA reduced the fines and allowed Mr. Sandlin to keep one tiger, Tony.
The Louisiana legislature passed Act 715 in 2006 which prohibits the ownership and sale of large exotic cats, including tigers in Louisiana.
Those individuals who legally owned big cats as of August 15, 2006 were grandfathered in under this act. These owners would need to apply for an annual permit from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and adhere to additional restrictions and stipulations.
On July 20, 2007 The Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries wrote to Michael Sandlin informing him of the new state rules. He was given an application to fill out and submit and was told Tony would be grandfathered in if the permit was issued.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries wrote Michael Sandlin on October 22, 2008 advising him that his application had been placed on hold based upon their discovery of the 1993 Iberville ban. Part of their new rules (LAC 76: V. 115. H.13) require that the facility be in compliance with all local ordinances. It was discovered that the 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance prohibited ownership and display of exotic animals such as tigers, but the ordinance was never enforced.
Original and Amended Ordinance: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/revised-ordinance/
Because he was not in compliance with the 1993 Iberville ordinance ban on displaying wild animals, Mr. Sandlin was issued a citation form the LDW&F on November 17, 2008 and given 30 days to find a home for Tony outside the state of Louisiana. Mr. Sandlin was given until December 16, 2008 to relocate Tony.
Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit educational accredited big cat sanctuary in Tampa Florida wrote to Mr. Sandlin on November 22, 2008 and offered to take Tony and provide a permanent home for him at no cost to Mr. Sandlin. Big Cat Rescue’s offer went unanswered and they contacted Maria Davidson, Large Carnivore Project Manager at the LDW&F and offered their assistance to seize Tony.
Mr. Sandlin filed a petition for a temporary restraining order on December 15, 2008 against the LDW&F to stop them from seizing Tony. Judge J. Robin Free signed the order on December 16, 2008.
December 16, 2008 Iberville Parish Council Meeting:
The issue of what to do with the tiger was not on the council’s agenda, but members agreed to let one representative from each delegation have three minutes to state their cases.
December 22, 2008
A court hearing that had been set for Dec. 29 was postponed to allow the council time to consider amending a 1993 parish ordinance that bars private individuals from exhibiting dangerous, wild animals such as tigers
February 17, 2009 Iberville Parish Council Meeting
The council voted 11-1 to allow Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin, to keep Tony — a decision that directly opposes parish ordinances restricting private ownership of exotic and dangerous animals.
February 28, 2009
Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. vetoed a parish ordinance the council approved on February 17, 2009 to allow a Mr. Sandlin to continue keeping a tiger at his place of business. In his veto message, Ourso wrote that the ordinance the council passed by a vote of 11-1 was deficient because it failed to provide “for permitting conditions to ensure the safety of the general public and the health and welfare of the tiger.”
March 17, 2009 Iberville Parish Council Meeting
The Iberville Parish Council voted Tuesday (March 17) to allow Tony the Tiger to stay at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, but only if an upgrade of his habitat will be made.
Amended Ordinance: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/revised-ordinance/
Mr. Sandlin then had to obtain a permit from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. A statement from the LDW&F large carnivore manager Maria Davidson read: ”It is the Department’s position that private possession of tigers poses a significant hazard to public safety and is detrimental to the health of the animal. Prolonged confinement is by its nature stressful to tigers and proper long-term care by experienced persons is essential to the health of the animal.”
Contrary to this statement, on December 14, 2009, the LDW&F granted the permit to Mr. Sandlin which allows him to keep Tony on display 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the truck stop.
In 2010, major organizations supported Tony: a WSPA sponsored petition gathered over 40,000 signatures; on November 22, 2010 , The Animal Legal Defense Fund petitioned the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries objecting to the permit renewal. Included in the petition were expert statements testifying to the detrimental effects physically and mentally to Tony by keeping him at the truck stop. Legal issues, such as Tony being illegally owned per the 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance, were addressed as well. The World Wildlife’s Fund’s report Tigers Among US included Tony in their interactive map, change.org pushed Tony’s petition and also showcased his story and Big Cat Rescue of Tampa Florida persistently advocated for Tony and his relocation to an accredited big cat sanctuary. Carole Baskin, CEO & Founder of BCR, spoke on behalf of Tony on ”Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell” and BCR has continually networked Tony’s story, produced videos of Tony, and issued an action alert for Tony’s supporters to sign which reached key decision makers regarding the permit renewal. BCR’s offer of a permanent home for Tony at their sanctuary was refused by Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin. Despite people worldwide objecting to the permit renewal and the support of the aforementioned organizations, The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries renewed their permit on December 14, 2010, allowing Mr. Sandlin to keep and display Tony.
July 2010 marked Tony’s tenth year of life as well as ten years at the truck stop. A captive tiger’s lifespan with the proper medical care, diet, habitat and enrichment is 15 to 20 years. Tony lives amid the noise and fumes of car and trucks continually, and his primary dwelling is a concrete and steel enclosure. He has no real opportunity to run, swim and receives little enrichment. His health, safety, welfare and quality of life are of great concern to many people all over the world. Accredited big cat sanctuaries stand ready to provide a permanent home for Tony. The Free Tony The Tiger Campaign is committed to relocating Tony to such a sanctuary so he may live the rest of his years in peace and with the care and respect this magnificent cat deserves.
For ways you can continue advocating on Tony’s behalf: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/take-action/
More links for Tony:
Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Site For Tony: www.aldf.org/tony
Big Cat Rescue’s (Tampa FL) Free Tony Page: http://www.freetony.com
Tony’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/FreeTonyTheTiger
Free Tony The Tiger On WordPress: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/
Tony On Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/FreeTonyTheTiger
Update: October 7, 2013: On October 4th, 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied a petition to review the decision of the Court of Appeal in the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) ongoing case to protect Tony, the Siberian-Bengal tiger confined at Grosse Tete, Louisiana’s Tiger Truck Stop by Michael Sandlin. Read more: http://aldf.org/press-room/press-releases/louisiana-supreme-court-allows-victory-for-tiger-to-stand/
Update: July 17, 2013: The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a brief asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to let stand two lower court rulings that the owner of Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete cannot have a license to keep a tiger. http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/aldf-asks-louisiana-high-court-not-to-hear-tiger-case/
Update: July 2, 2013: Appeal filed by Mr. Sandlin’s lawyers to Louisiana Supreme Court. Senior attorney Matthew Liebman said the Animal Legal Defense Fund will be filing its opposition to Morris’ request. “The application is entirely without merit, yet another attempt by Mr. Sandlin to delay the inevitable and prolong Tony’s inhumane captivity,” he wrote in an email. http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/truck-stop-tiger-case-headed-to-louisiana-supreme-court/
Update: April 25, 2013: On April 25, 2013 the Louisiana Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling in ALDF’s case against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for unlawfully issuing Michael Sandlin a permit to keep and exhibit Tony. The Court of Appeals agreed with Judge Caldwell, holding that Sandlin is ineligible for a permit to keep Tony. With pro bono assistance from Baker Donelson, ALDF will continue to fight on behalf of Tony and the individual plaintiffs involved. More at: http://aldf.org/article.php?id=2438
Update: February 19, 2013: Attorneys for ALDF were in court on the morning of February 19, 2013 in Baton Rouge to defend our most recent victory, in which a district court judge ordered the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to revoke the permit that allows Michael Sandlin to hold Tony the Tiger in captivity. ALDF lawyers told the three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal that the Department should never have issued a captive wildlife permit to Michael Sandlin, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop. The judges listened attentively to arguments from all sides, and are expected to issue their opinion in Spring of 2013. We will update our supporters as soon as we know their decision.
Update: January 24, 2013: by Animal Legal Defense Fund: On Tuesday, February 19, 2013 the courts will hear ALDF’s oral arguments in the appeal to free Tony.
Update: November 29, 2012: Please see this article from the Animal Legal Defense Fund for the current status of Tony’s case: http://aldf.org/article.php?id=2233
Note: There has still been no decision from the August 6th, 2012 hearing. We will post updates when they become available. Thanks for your continued support of Tony.
Update: June 27, 2012: From The Animal Legal Defense Fund: There is a hearing set for August 6 in Sandlin’s lawsuit against the State; the court will hear ALDF’s and the State’s exceptions, which seek to have Sandlin’s case dismissed. If we succeed, Sandlin may appeal. If we lose, the case will proceed to the preliminary injunction stage.
Sandlin’s appeal of our original law suit finally got a briefing schedule, so we’re expecting Sandlin’s opening brief in early July, with our response due later in July. No oral argument date has been set yet. http://aldf.org/article.php?id=1675
Update May 14, 2012: From Matthew Liebman – ALDF Attorney: Making Sense of the Current Status of the Tony the Tiger Cases || Visit: http://aldf.org/article.php?id=2053#
Update May 7, 2012: From The Animal Legal Defense Find: Good news! In today’s hearing in Baton Rouge, District Judge Janice Clark agreed that the Animal Legal Defense Fund and two Louisiana residents can be parties to the lawsuit filed by Michael Sandlin, owner of Grosse Tete’s Tiger Truck Stop, against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. ALDF and the other interveners seek to defend the state’s law banning private ownership of big cats. Thanks to today’s ruling, ALDF will now have a right to participate in all steps of the litigation as it moves forward.
Update May 3, 2012: In today’s hearing in Baton Rouge, the judge ruled ALDF’s plaintiffs lacked standing in our lawsuit to force the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to do its job of enforcing Louisiana’s big cat ban now that the Tiger Truck Stop and Michael Sandlin are keeping Tony the tiger without a permit, in open violation of state law. The judge also ruled that department has discretion whether or not to enforce Louisiana’s law banning private ownership of big cats at this time.
Over 50,000 of Tony’s supporter have signed an ALDF petition to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries over the past year, urging them to do their job—we’re all getting tired of waiting for the department to do the job it’s supposed to do and protect the best interests of both Tony and the public.
Today’s decision in no way affects the judge’s ruling that Michael Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop cannot be granted a permit to keep Tony. We fully expect that once all the legal proceedings relating to this case have wrapped up, the Department will do the job it is supposed to do and make sure Tony is no longer displayed without a permit. We are considering our options for appeal in today’s decision, and we are continuing to fight Michael Sandlin’s attempts to delay the inevitable day when Tony will finally go to a suitable forever home at a sanctuary where he can live out his days as a tiger should.
“The eyes of a disbelieving nation have been on this case for well over a year, says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We’re all wondering the same thing: why should Tony continue to languish at the Tiger Truck Stop, so many months after the judge’s ruling in our favor?”
Update May 2, 2012: via The Animal Legal Defense Fund: Two hearings are scheduled for the coming week in the ongoing case of Tony, the eleven-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger kept at Grosse Tete’s Tiger Truck Stop.
On Thursday, May 3, the court will consider the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s most recent lawsuit against the Louisiana Departnent of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). The lawsuit, filed on April 5, seeks to force LDWF to do its job of enforcing Louisiana’s big cat ban now that the Tiger Truck Stop and Michael Sandlin are keeping Tony without a permit, in open violation of state law.
On Monday, May 7, the court will hear ALDF’s petition to intervene in the lawsuit filed by the Tiger Truck Stop and its owner Michael Sandlin against the state of Louisiana. Their case argues that Louisiana’s ban on private ownership of big cats like Tony is unconstitutional—flying in the face of the current national sentiment that dangerous exotic animals should be more strictly regulated. ALDF’s petition in intervention supports Louisiana’s power to safeguard public safety and animal welfare through such legislative measures. An ALDF representative will be testifying at the hearing. http://aldf.org/article.php?id=2023
UPDATE: April 5, 2012: via The Animal Legal Defense Fund: ALDF Back in Court Demanding State Take Action on Tony the Truck Stop Tiger, Now Exhibited Without a Permit
Baton Rouge, La. – This morning, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit to force the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to do its job of enforcing Louisiana’s big cat ban in the case of Tony, Grosse Tete’s “truck stop tiger.” Michael Sandlin’s permit to keep Tony, an eleven-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger, expired in December, yet he has continued to keep Tony confined at the Tiger Truck Stop, in open violation of state law. ALDF’s lawsuit would compel the Department to take steps to enforce the law and report Sandlin’s illegal possession of Tony to local law enforcement for prosecution. In addition, ALDF, along with two Louisiana residents, today filed a petition to intervene in Sandlin’s current lawsuit against the state; the interveners seek to defend the state’s law banning private ownership of big cats. Read more at: http://www.aldf.org/article.php?id=2023
UPDATE: January 30, 2012 via The Animal Legal Defense Fund: Last Monday, Judge Caldwell denied a motion brought by Michael Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop (TTS) that sought to suspend Judge Caldwell’s order while Sandlin and TTS appealed. In other words, Tony would have stayed put at the truck stop until after the appeal ran its course, which could take months. Instead, Judge Caldwell’s order instructing the Department to revoke the permit will go into effect right away. Sadly, this does not necessarily mean Tony is leaving the truck stop soon. Sandlin has filed his own lawsuit against the Department, which has been temporarily restrained from taking any action to remove Tony. Our attorneys are doing everything they can to resolve these conflicting orders to make sure Tony makes his way to a humane, accredited sanctuary as soon as possible.
Note: Please sign and share the new petition for Tony:
More ways to continue to advocate for Tony:
UPDATE: January 4, 2012: Michael Sandlin filed suit Tuesday January 2, 2012 against the state of Louisiana and Iberville Parish in another attempt to continue keeping Tony at the truck stop. Michael Sandlin argues he and his truck stop have held a federal permit since 1988 to keep tigers at the truck stop, and Tony, a Siberian-Bengal mix, has been kept there lawfully for 10 years. Animal Legal Defense Fund staff attorney Matthew Liebman said Sandlin’s lawsuit is “baseless and without merit.’’
“We are confident that the state of Louisiana and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries acted well within their legal authority when they decided to protect both the public and big cats like Tony by restricting private ownership of wild animals,’’ he said.
UPDATE: December 12, 2011: State District Judge Mike Caldwell denied Tuesday a motion for a new trial filed on behalf of Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop Inc. near Interstate 10 in Iberville Parish.
The motion was filed Nov. 20 after Caldwell ruled the tiger would not be permitted to remain at Sandlin’s truck stop. More info: http://theadvocate.com/home/1546068-125/judge-denies-new-trial-motion.html
UPDATE: December 6, 2011: Posted by Animal Legal Defense Fund on December 6th, 2011
ALDF is well-aware of the allegations of horrendous conditions at G.W. Exotic Animal Park. Our attorneys are researching various legal strategies for ensuring that Tony goes to a reputable sanctuary, not a roadside zoo. http://aldf.org/article.php?id=1891
UPDATE: December 5, 2011: Both Mr. Sandlin and The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have filed motions for a new trial. Sandlin’s motion basically re-argues everything Judge R. Michael Caldwell has already decided.
LDWF’s motion focuses only on the award of costs to the plaintiffs and is not contesting the decision. A hearing date is pending and any further information will be posted when it becomes available.
Please continue to support Tony: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/stay-strong-tony-recent-pics-of-tony/ Thank You.
UPDATE: November 4, 2011: Recents Facebook posts from The Animal Legal Defense Fund concerning the decision on Wednesday November 2, 2011 for Tony: “ALDF hopes to work with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Mr. Sandlin to find the best possible new home for Tony, providing recommendations for reputable sanctuaries where Tony can live out his life in a peaceful, natural environment. || Yes, Mr. Sandlin can appeal. It is unknown if he will.” http://www.facebook.com/#!/AnimalLegalDefenseFund
UPDATE: November 2, 2011: VICTORY FOR TONY! Court Rules Current Permit Must Be Revoked Great news from Baton Rouge, where Judge Michael Caldwell has ruled in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Louisiana taxpayers in our lawsuit to free Tony the Tiger from the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana.
Judge Caldwell agreed with ALDF’s argument that the permit that allows Sandlin to keep Tony was unlawfully issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The judge ordered the Department to revoke the current permit and prohibited it from issuing any new permits to the Truck Stop. “We are thrilled that the court made the right decision,” says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We will continue to do everything we can to make sure Tony’s next home is a reputable, accredited sanctuary that can give Tony the life he deserves.” http://aldf.org/article.php?id=1859
UPDATE: October 7, 2011: The exception hearing on October 17th is rescheduled to November 2nd when the court will also hear The Animal Legal Defense Fund ‘s motion for a permanent injunction to revoke the permit which allows Mr. Sandlin to keep Tony at the truck stop.
UPDATE: September 20, 2011: Via The Animal Legal Defense Fund: The court has scheduled two new hearings in the Tony the Tiger case. On October 17th, the court will hear the State’s exceptions, which challenge the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the case. On November 2nd, the court will hear ALDF’s motion for a permanent injunction to revoke the permit that lets Michael Sandlin confine Tony at the Tiger Truck Stop.
UPDATE: August 29, 2011: Via The Animal Legal Defense Fund: “This morning, the Louisiana Court of Appeals ruled that Michael Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop are necessary parties to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit to free Tony the Tiger and ordered a new trial in the case. In so ruling, the Court vacated the permanent injunction issued by the trial court that would have freed Tony in December. The decision means ALDF will need to amend its complaint to add the new defendants, then re-do the litigation thus far. While we disagree with the Court of Appeals’ ruling, this is just a minor set-back. We are confident that the trial court got the law right the first time around and will rule the same way when we go through it again with Mr. Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop as parties.”
UPDATE: August 15, 2011: Today’s exception hearing concerning Mr. Sandlin’s attempt to have the case dismissed has been denied. The judge will not allow the “interveners” to be party to the suit or to have the case dismissed. More info: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/victory-for-tony-aldf-update-on-today%e2%80%99s-hearing-courtesy-of-mary-haik/
UPDATE: On August 15, 2011 Lawyers for ALDF will be in court in Baton Rouge to defend against Michael Sandlin’s, attempt to get the case dismissed. The Court has also set a hearing date of September 15 for ALDF’s motion for a mandatory injunction, which seeks an immediate revocation of Sandlin’s permit to keep Tony.
UPDATE: July 18 2011: The hearing scheduled for July 22, 2011 has been postponed. More information will be posted when available.
UPDATE: June 28 2011: A hearing is now scheduled for July 22. Please continue to support Tony by signing his petitions and voicing your concern for him. Petition links and information on actions you can take for Tony: Your Continued Support For Tony Is Needed!! Thank you.
UPDATE: June 14, 2011: The hearing scheduled for June 14 has been postponed to a later date yet to be determined. The hearing was continued to provide the Department an opportunity to conduct discovery, an essential stage of the litigation process.
UPDATE: June 3, 2011: Next Steps in ALDF’s Fight to Free Tony the Truck Stop Tiger http://www.aldf.org/article.php?id=1723 A new hearing on the motion for a mandatory injunction has been set for June 14.
UPDATE: May 16, 2011 From ALDF: Answers to Your Questions About ALDF’s Win for Tony the Tiger http://aldf.org/article.php?id=1711 Please also see this post on how you can continue to support Tony: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/important-roar-on-for-tony/
UPDATE: Victory For Tony!!! On May 6, 2011 Judge R. Michael Caldwell grants a permanent injunction which blocks The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from issuing a new permit to Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin. More information:http://www.aldf.org/article.php?id=1700
UPDATE: On May 5, 2011 ALDF goes to court for Tony. More info: http://aldf.org/article.php?id=1699
UPDATE: On April 11, 2011 The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and its Secretary Robert Barham. The lawsuit argues that the permit issued by the LDWF which allows Tony to be kept on display at the truck stop violates state and local laws. Read more at: www.aldf.org/tony. There are two ALDf sponsred petitions for Tony; please sign and share the links: http://tinyurl.com/tonyaldfpetition and http://www.change.org/petitions/speak-out-for-tony-the-truck-stop-tiger
UPDATE: On December 14, 2010 The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries renewed their permit to Tony’s owner, Michael Sandlin allowing him to keep and display Tony at the truck stop. http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/state-truck-stop-can-continue-live-tiger-exhibit/ The permit renewal by no means discourages us to continue advocating for Tony and for the home and life he deserves at an accredited big cat sanctuary. Please see this link: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/take-action/ for an updated list of ways you can continue being a voice for Tony. Thanks to all of Tony’s friends for you support and dedication to him – don’t ever give up the fight for this handsome tiger’s freedom.