State district judge revoked permit
By Morgan Searles
Published: Sunday, November 6, 2011
Updated: Sunday, November 6, 2011 23:11
After 24 years of hosting a live tiger at its business, Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La., may lose its namesake, a Siberian-Bengal mix named Tony.
State District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled Nov. 2 to revoke the permit that allows Tiger Truck Stop to keep the exotic animal. Caldwell said the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, who issued the truck stop’s permit, violated its own rule by allowing a corporation to own the tiger.
Corporations are not allowed to own a big cat under state law. But individuals were able to own the exotic animals until 2006, when the Louisiana state legislature passed an act to control ownership. Today, no individual may own a big cat unless they owned it before 2006, in which case the ownership is grandfathered into the law.
This exemption isn’t extended to the Tiger Truck Stop, which has owned tigers for the past 24 years, because they have always been owned by the corporation, not an individual, according to the Associated Press.
Under Caldwell’s ruling, Tiger Truck Stop will not be allowed to receive another permit from Wildlife and Fisheries to keep Tony.
Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop, said he plans to file an appeal with the First Circuit Court of Appeals in hopes of keeping Tony at the truck stop.
Sandlin said he also plans to file a discrimination lawsuit against the state because of laws forbidding individuals from owning big cats.
“We feel new state law banning private ownership discriminates against persons like myself,” he said. “It’s the same license LSU and the zoo has. Why are they allowed to keep animals and I’m not?”
According to Louisiana law, university mascots are exempt from the exotic big-cat ban, allowing LSU’s Mike VI to legally live without an individual owner, unlike Tony.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund in Cotati, Calif., filed a lawsuit April 11 against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and its secretary Robert Barham to revoke the permit and remove the tiger from the truck stop.
The Louisiana Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in August to add Tiger Truck Stop and Sandlin as defendants.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund web site, with the Nov. 2 ruling, the organization intends to see Tony placed in an accredited sanctuary, but Sandlin said if he were forced to relocate Tony, the tiger would go to an exotic animal park in Oklahoma.
Sandlin is promoting a petition and several Tony-related web pages, including savetony.com and a Facebook paged called “Keep Tony Where He Is,” to gather support.
Tony’s habitat includes a 3,600 square-foot cage with a grassy area, toys, a water tank and an air-conditioned enclosure. A 10-foot chain-link fence with barbed wire surrounds the cage.
Sandlin said the cost of keeping Tony is about $1,500 each month for feeding and veterinary care.
Sandlin said he and his brother inherited the tradition of keeping tigers at the truck stop from his father. The stop has hosted ten surviving tigers, with as many as five adult tigers in the exhibit at one time.
“We have a history of tigers living long and happy lives at the truck stop,” Sandlin said. “It fits in real nice with Baton Rouge and LSU being Tiger country, and there’s so many people that have gotten so much enjoyment form the tigers being here over the years. That’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Sandlin said he’s determined to find a way to keep the tiger.
“We’re going to do everything we can do to keep Tony at home where he belongs,” he said.