GROSSE TETE, La.– There’s a battle shaping up in this small town just west ofBaton Rouge, pitting a truck stop owner and his pet cat against a horde of enraged animal activists.
And the showdown promises to be heated.
In one corner, you have Michael Sandlin, local entrepreneur, employer, owner of the Tiger Truck Stop and companion to Tony, the splendid Bengal/Siberian tiger.
In the opposite corner, you have animal-rights activists from around the States, led by the Oregon-based Animal Legal Defence Fund. (ALDF). The ALDF believes Tony’s habitat isn’t at all grrrreat after all and that Sandlin is being negligent with the animal.
The ALDF took the matter to court and last week, aBaton Rouge Courtruled in their favor, stating that Tony has to be moved from the truck stop to another locale later this year. Most likely locale: A tiger sanctuary somewhere inFlorida.
Left unchanged, the ruling would mean Sandlin’s has to give up Tony in December.
Sandlin is anything but supine.
“Hell will freeze over before I let Tony go to BCR [Big Cat Rescue] inFlorida,” Sandlin told todaystrucking.com
“My attorney and I feel that they violated my civil rights as they were deciding what to do with my property without giving me a chance to present evidence and defend my property,” he says in an interview.
“We’ll be requesting a new trial and I think we can knock all their stuff down.”
You can already guess the two sides to the story.
The animal-rights activists feel Tony shouldn’t be at the truck stop; they say he’s exposed to diesel fumes and doesn’t get enough exercise; Sandlin counters with the fact that he loves Tony, the tiger is not exposed to diesel fumes, and that the truck stop is the only home Tony knows.
On the truck stop’s website, Sandlin posts: “We’ve taken a lot of heat from animal rights’ activists that say our tigers ought to be out in the wild, but we really love these cats and take the very best care of them we can. Some people have told us our cats look like they get better care than cats at a lot of the zoos. They’re reproducing well, and that says a lot about the care they get.
“Who is to say that a balanced diet, program of veterinary care, doubling the tiger’s life span, love, and human affection are not better than the alternative?”
As Pam the truck stop attendant told todaystrucking.com, “Mike loves that cat. There’s kids in these parts who don’t get the tender loving care Mike gives Tony.”
The story is attracting lots of attention.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has spoken in favor of the animal-rights folks and Sandlin told our reporter that one of the largest American sensationalist newspapers, the National Enquirer, is carrying the story.
Many truckers who’ve been through Louisianahave stopped at the Tiger, and even if you haven’t, you might have had a glimpse of Tony when the truck stop was featured in a tawdry thriller called Palmer’s Pickup, in which a cougarish Rosanna Arquette plays an oversexed gun-totin’ female truck driver.
Sandlin, who was raised in the truck stop business, bought the Grosse Tete location in ’88. His brother found himself in possession of two tigers that year and Sandlin made a home for them at the truck stop. Over the years, the truck stop has been home to about 13 tigers all told. Some have passed on, some gone to tiger retirement homes.
With 35 employees, the full-service truck stop also employs about one-twentieth the population of Grosse Tete.
“It’s a small mom-and-pop business,” Sandlin says, “We’re famous for our red beans and rice with alligator sausage as well as many other Cajun dishes.
“Truck drivers that come to the truck stop on a regular basis will tell you that Tony recognizes them and gets excited to see them when they visit.
“Children who have had the opportunity over the years to feed the cubs that were born here will never forget their experience.”
Both sides have launched petitions on their websites; and the fight is only beginning. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, listen to Today’s Trucking editors discuss Tony’s fate, among other subjects, on the all-new Dispatches podcast. Click here.