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Senate stalls tiger bill via @theadvocatebr   Leave a comment

Marsha Shuler
April 29, 2014

The Louisiana Senate refused Monday to step into a legal battle over whether Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete can continue to keep a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger.

Truck stop owner Michael Sandlin already has lost one court fight, which went to the state Supreme Court.

Another lawsuit is active.

State Sen. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen, asked the Senate to approve legislation that would allow Sandlin to keep the tiger through an exception in state law governing ownership of big exotic cats.

The Senate voted 18-19 for the measure — two votes short of the majority needed for passage of Senate Bill 250.

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has the authority under state law to control and regulate the possession of big exotic cats.

Exceptions are provided for those held by colleges and universities, animal sanctuaries, zoos, wildlife rescue centers, scientific organizations and “owners who can prove previous ownership.”

Ward said the legislation sought to “clarify” the definition of previous owner to include anyone who obtained their animal legally and has been in continuous possession and ownership since Aug. 15, 2006. The exception would apply retroactively and fit Sandlin’s Tiger Truck Stop situation.

“Many of you drive up and down I-10,” Ward said. “It’s a very nice facility …. He (the tiger) enjoys his area. In fact, he even has an air conditioned home.”

But state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said the truck stop is not a place for a Siberian-Bengal tiger. He said it is not accredited by the agency that has given the seal of approval to LSU’s Mike the Tiger digs and others accommodating the large cats.

“We are talking about a truck stop along a highway that family and kids enjoy,” Morrell said. “No one at this truck stop is prepared to deal with any dangerous situation whatsoever if and when this tiger gets out and injures someone.”

Ward said truck stop owner Sandlin has had tigers since 1984. “There’s never been a safety incident. I don’t think there’s going to even be a safety issue,” Ward said. “He’s followed all the guidelines necessary and will continue to do so.”

Four Louisiana residents filed suit wanting the tiger, Tony, moved to a secure accredited wildlife sanctuary. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a district court decision that found that state law banned the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from renewing Sandlin’s permit to house the tiger. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Sandlin has a civil lawsuit pending on another issue dealing with permitting.

Louisiana Senate votes down bill protecting ownership of truck stop tiger via @BRNola   Leave a comment

tony nola

By Emily Lane, | The Times-Picayune
April 28, 2014 at 6:00 PM, updated April 28, 2014 at 9:50 PM

A Louisiana state senator hinted the Legislature dodged an unwanted national spotlight Monday (April 29) by narrowly voting down a bill that would let the owner of a truck stop off of Interstate 10 keep his roadside attraction, a Bengal-Siberian mix tiger.

But the sponsor of the bill, which the Senate voted down 19-18, recalled visiting the truck stop tiger as a boy and defended the owner as someone who cared for his tigers and always tried to comply with the ever-changing laws regulating exotic cats in Louisiana.

Senate Bill 250, sponsored by Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, aims to prevent the state from seizing Tony the tiger from Grosse Tete-located Tiger Truck Stop Inc. and its owner Michael Sandlin. Ward can bring the bill back up again and indicated he will.

Ownership and possession of the 14-year-old tiger, which lives in a 40-by-80-foot cage at the stop 20 minutes outside Baton Rouge, is currently up in the air pending litigation. Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin challenged the state’s attempt to remove Tony after the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in April that Sandlin’s permit to keep Tony was invalid because he is not Tony’s legal owner. Tiger Truck Stop Inc. has owned Tony since 2000, but new rules promulgated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries require the owner to be an individual, not a corporation.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, handed out photos of the tiger’s cage. “It’s a chain-link fence keeping in a Siberian tiger,” he said. Though pictures of the cage Morrell placed on desks of every senator played to the animal rights angle, Morrell kept much of his argument on the floor geared toward public safety.

Photos of Tony the tiger in his cage (above) at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana, were handed out to lawmakers on the Louisiana Senate floor, along photos of the habitat of LSU's Mike the Tiger, (below) for comparison. Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, distributed the photos in opposiion of a bill to allow the tiger's owner to keep him there. (Emily Lane, | The Times-Picayune)

Photos of Tony the tiger in his cage (above) at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana, were handed out to lawmakers on the Louisiana Senate floor, along photos of the habitat of LSU’s Mike the Tiger, (below) for comparison. Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, distributed the photos in opposiion of a bill to allow the tiger’s owner to keep him there. (Emily Lane, | The Times-Picayune)

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He read over the microphone answers to some of the questions, which were part of the lawsuit evidence, posed to Tiger Truck Stop employees in the event that the tiger escape.

One employee said in the event of an escape, after notifying the area, calling animal control and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, he would “get whichever gun I would need.”

Another, asked the first action he would take in the event of an escape, answered, “Rescue everybody.” The same employee, asked what to do if he couldn’t find the tiger, answered: “‘Good question,'” then added, “Somebody’s gonna have to find him.”

The questionnaires also reveled all employees had attended a Wildlife and Fisheries hunter safety course and were trained to carry out the escape plan. Sandlin, though, when asked if he had read the escape plan, answered: “Insurance company wrote escape plan.”

The original version of the bill extended beyond just Tony, to other private owners of exotic cats. It also would have allowed Sandlin to continue to house tigers. But the version the Senate took up Monday makes an exception only for Tony.

“I remember going (to the Tiger Truck Stop) as a kid, growing up,” Ward, 31, said last week. His district includes the town in Iberville Parish where the truck stop is located. Ward said the Sandlins have a good track record of caring for the animals, as far as he knows, and he feel’s his permit should have been pulled because of retroactive rules added to the exotic cat statute. He echoed a concern voiced by Sandlin that relocating the tiger, which Sandlin said likely has six or seven years left, could be traumatic for the animal and possibly risk his health. “I thought it was the right thing to do,” Ward said of sponsoring the legislation.

Matthew Liebman, attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, of Cotati, Calif., said the assertion that relocating Tony could be harmful to the tiger a “sounds like a scare tactic to me.” Liebman represented plaintiffs in the legal battle. Maintaining the tiger in captivity, “and certainly at a truck stop,” raises humane concerns, as well as public safety, he said.

But Sandlin argued the public is “more likely to be attacked by a vending machine or a shopping cart at Albertsons than a wild animal.”

Sandlin said he’s spent more than $250,000 in fighting for Tony in court, and the tiger, at this point, is more of a liability than a financial asset. “But it’s not about the money.

“Over 25 years I’ve been bottle feeding them, wiping their buts, loving them and raising them…Every day I get to see the smiles of people’s faces, especially the children, that love to come stop here and see Tony.”

Sandlin said he was disappointed the addition of the amendment went short of grandfathering in his exhibit for the future, but the bill “would be a victory to get some justice” regarding Tony. He feels he’s been harassed and tried to follow the law, but new rules have “made criminals overnight” of law abiding, responsible private owners.

Morrell also noted the it sets a bad precedent to pass laws the could interfere or reverse rulings from the court system. Tony’s controversy has received interest from around the country and ink from the New York Times, prompting Sandlin to argue it’s mostly vocal activists outside of Louisiana who are advocating against his captivity at the truck stop.

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