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The Tragic Tale of Tony the Truck-Stop Tiger   Leave a comment

Tony’s 16-year confinement and ultimate death as a roadside attraction expose the failure of the American legal system.

 

 

Tony should have been allowed to live in a sanctuary, where he could feel grass under his paws.
Photo Credit: Janusz Sobolewski/Flickr

For more than six years, the Animal Legal Defense Fund fought tirelessly to save a tiger named Tony from a cage in the parking lot of a Louisiana truck stop. Sadly, we received news this week that Tony had died of kidney failure after spending 16 years confined to his cage, living and dying as a roadside attraction. Tony’s plight is a microcosm of the problems with our legal system, a system that treats sentient beings as property and affords disproportionate political influence to their captors and abusers.

Tony was born into captivity, sentenced from birth to a life of exploitation, a gimmick used by his owner Michael Sandlin to sell gasoline at the Tiger Truck Stop. It doesn’t take a degree in veterinary medicine to know that a truck stop is no place for a tiger. But veterinarians and animal behaviorists weighed in emphatically on Tony’s behalf. Dr. Jennifer Conrad, a doctor of veterinary medicine with decades of experience with captive large cats, personally visited Tony and concluded that he was “exploited to the detriment of his welfare.”

Dr. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, concluded that Tony’s enclosure was completely unnatural and totally unfit, and that the manner in which Tony was kept at the Tiger Truck Stop fell significantly below the bare minimum required to ensure his psychological welfare.

The state legislature and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) recognized that keeping wild animals in captivity causes immense animal suffering and threatens public safety, so they banned the private possession of tigers. But the agency bowed to pressure from the Tiger Truck Stop and issued it a grandfather permit to keep Tony in spite of the ban.

In early 2011—moved by Tony’s suffering and the passion of his supporters—we sued LDWF, arguing that the truck stop wasn’t eligible for a grandfather permit. And we won. The trial court ruled that because the truck stop violated a local ordinance prohibiting the ownership and exhibition of tigers, it couldn’t qualify for a permit. The court ordered LDWF to revoke the permit and prohibited it from issuing any new permits. The Louisiana Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, leaving the Tiger Truck Stop and Michael Sandlin with an unlawfully possessed tiger and no permit to keep him.

That should have been the end of it.

LDWF should have seized Tony and sent him to a sanctuary where he could have lived out the last six years with grass under his paws, fresh air in his lungs, and caretakers who prioritized his well-being. Instead, Tony would spend the next six years as a victim to a lethargic legal system that failed him at every turn, notwithstanding the indefatigable efforts of his legal advocates.

What went wrong?

At the root of the problem is the fact that in the United States, animals are property. And any time one asserts the rights of property against the rights of its owner, the game is rigged. Tony’s “owner,” Michael Sandlin, was able to exploit a narrative of private property rights under siege, claiming over and over again that he had a God-given right as an American to own a tiger.

Sandlin even filed his own lawsuit, arguing that Louisiana’s ban on tigers violates his property rights. We intervened against Sandlin in the case to defend the ban and the right of the government to prohibit the inhumane captivity of wild animals. The case has been pending for more than five years. Although we expect Sandlin’s lawsuit to lose, as a delay-tactic to keep Tony trapped at the truck stop, it succeeded spectacularly.

Another troublesome aspect of our legal system also doomed Tony to die at the truck stop: the undue influence of money in politics and the corruption of the political process by those who abuse animals.

Tony’s sad story reveals America’s broken legal system, rigged to favor animal abusers. (image: ALDF)

In 2014, Sandlin convinced his state senator, Rick Ward, to introduce a bill to exempt Tony—and only Tony—from the state ban on big cats. The bill carved out a retroactive exemption to place Sandlin above the law that applies to all other Louisiana citizens, co-opting the legislature to undo the legal victory that revoked the truck stop’s permit.

Despite our on-the-ground efforts to stop the bill in Baton Rouge, it passed and was signed into law by then-governor Bobby Jindal. We challenged the new law as an unconstitutional “special law”—a giveaway to a private special interest at the expense of the public interest. But the lawsuit was bounced on a procedural technicality to a different court, then languished, awaiting a ruling from the court that didn’t come quickly enough to spare Tony.

All told, we filed four lawsuits, intervened in a fifth lawsuit, and fought legislatively for Tony’s freedom. Tragically, it wasn’t enough to overcome the lethargy of the courts to act—and the corruption of Louisiana politics.

But we will hold our grief over Tony’s death in our hearts and our memories as we continue to fight to prevent Michael Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop from replacing Tony with another tiger, and as we fight for the liberation of other wild animals from cruel captivity.

While we have had numerous legal victories for captive wildlife—from lions to tigers to bears and more—we remain committed to fighting for animals using the laws we do have—while simultaneously working to transform the legal system to recognize the obvious: Animals are more than just “property.”

Stephen Wells is executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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The Animal Legal Defense Fund Mourns the Loss of Tony the Tiger   Leave a comment

Posted on October 17, 2017 via Animal Legal Defense Fund

Contact: Natalia Lima, nlima@aldf.org, 201-679-7088

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is deeply saddened by the death of Tony, the Siberian-Bengal tiger held captive in the Tiger Truck Stop parking lot in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. For more than seven years, we litigated on many fronts to free Tony, and we are devastated that despite our best efforts, he lived and died caged at a truck stop that could never provide the life he deserved.

We—like you—are frustrated and angered that Tony continued to suffer at the Truck Stop even after the Animal Legal Defense Fund successfully obtained a judgment in 2012 prohibiting Louisiana from issuing any future permits for Tony’s captivity.  That judgment should have required the State of Louisiana to move Tony to a reputable sanctuary where he could have lived for the last five years in the naturalistic environment he deserved. Rather than giving Tony the life he deserved, however, the Louisiana legislature passed a law exempting the Tiger Truck Stop—and the Tiger Truck Stop alone—from the Louisiana Big Cat Ban, undoing our victory in court and trapping Tony at the truck stop.

Despite our best efforts, we were unable to get that corrupt legislative maneuver declared unconstitutional in time to save Tony.  But rest assured our litigation efforts on behalf Tony’s fellow big cats will not end.

We will continue to fight with vigor to uphold the constitutionality of Louisiana’s Big Cat Ban against the challenges to that law from the Tiger Truck Stop’s owner, Michael Sandlin. A victory in this litigation will ensure that Tony will be the last tiger to suffer at the Truck Stop and there will never be a Tony II or Tony III who will have to suffer the same fate.

“Tony’s tragic death demonstrates how our legal system leaves wildlife, including members of endangered species like Tony, extremely vulnerable to exploitation by incompetent or uncaring individuals,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells.

While we are saddened that we were unable to save Tony from his tragic confinement so that he could join other Animal Legal Defense Fund clients like Rickey the Bear, Njjarra the Lion, and Bear the Wolf at reputable sanctuaries—we will continue to fight in the memory of Tony and the millions of other animals who have been mistreated, until no more animals are subject to such suffering.

http://aldf.org/press-room/press-releases/the-animal-legal-defense-fund-mourns-the-loss-of-tony-the-tiger/

Animal Legal Defense Fund Sues USDA for Denying Tony the Tiger is an “Individual” Protected by FOIA   Leave a comment

Posted on July 11, 2017

Organization Seeks Expedited Records Concerning Health of Endangered Tiger

Contact:
Natalia Lima, 201-679-7088, nlima@aldf.org

BATON ROUGE, La. – The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture for refusing to recognize a captive tiger as an “individual” whose physical safety is at risk and refusing to expedite the organization’s public records request. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is seeking records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) related to the health and well-being of Tony the Tiger, who has been confined at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete for 16 years.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund sought expedited processing, which FOIA requires when delayed disclosure “could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual,” namely Tony the Tiger. The USDA erroneously denied the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s request, asserting that Tony is not an “individual” because the term applies only to humans. The Animal Legal Defense Fund does not agree.

Upon denial of the expedited request, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an administrative appeal challenging the USDA’s decision—which was constructively denied based on the USDA’s failure to resolve the appeal within the statutorily required time period.

Both in the administrative appeal and lawsuit, the Animal Legal Defense Fund argues that Tony the Tiger is an “individual” within the plain meaning of that term. Merriam-Webster defines “individual” as “a particular being or thing as distinguished from a class, species or collection,” which Tony certainly is. Merriam-Webster even includes a usage example specific to a tiger: “[t]he markings on tigers are unique to each individual.”

“The USDA is charged with protecting the interests of animals—yet it erroneously excludes animals from the scope of provisions intended to allow prompt public access to information that might be necessary to ensure the safety and protect the lives of the very animals they are responsible for protecting,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The American people have a right to access information quickly when an animal’s life and safety are on the line.”

http://aldf.org/press-room/press-releases/animal-legal-defense-fund-sues-usda-for-denying-tony-the-tiger-is-an-individual-protected-by-foia/

Animal Legal Defense Fund Demands Feds Recognize Tony the Tiger as an “Individual” Protected by the Freedom of Information Act   Leave a comment

Posted on May 24, 2017

Appeals USDA’s Denial of Expedited Processing of FOIA Request

Contact:
Natalia Lima, 201-679-7088, nlima@aldf.org

BATON ROUGE, La. – The Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed an administrative appeal, urging the United States Department of Agriculture to recognize a captive tiger as an “individual” whose physical safety is at risk and to expedite the group’s public records request. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is seeking records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) related to the health and well-being of Tony the Tiger, who has been confined at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete for 16 years.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund sought expedited processing, which FOIA requires when delayed disclosure “could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual,” namely Tony the tiger. The USDA erroneously denied the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s request, asserting that Tony is not an “individual” because the term applies only to humans.

But the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s appeal demonstrates that Tony the Tiger is an “individual” within the plain meaning of that term. Merriam-Webster defines “individual” as “a particular being or thing as distinguished from a class, species or collection,” which Tony certainly is. Merriam-Webster even includes a usage example specific to a tiger: “[t]he markings on tigers are unique to each individual.”

“Federal law recognizes a strong public interest in protecting the interests of non-human animals,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “It is troubling that the USDA, an agency charged with protecting the interests of animals, has erroneously excluded animals from the scope of a provision intended to allow prompt public access to information in situations where it might help safeguard the safety or life of the very animals the USDA is responsible for protecting. When animals’ lives are on the line, the American people have a right to speedy access to information that might prevent suffering.”

http://aldf.org/press-room/press-releases/animal-legal-defense-fund-demands-feds-recognize-tony-the-tiger-as-an-individual-protected-by-the-freedom-of-information-act/

Animal Legal Defense Fund Files Motion for Summary Judgment to Free Tony the Tiger Once and for All   Leave a comment

Posted on May 18, 2017

Naturalistic Habitat at Reputable Sanctuary Awaits Long-Suffering Tiger

Contact:
Natalia Lima, 201-679-7088, nlima@aldf.org

BATON ROUGE, La. – The Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed a motion for summary judgment that would at long last resolve the years-long legal battle over the fate of Tony, the 16-year-old tiger held in a cage at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete.

Tony has attracted the attention of animal lovers nationwide for the impoverished conditions of his captivity and the lengths to which Tiger Truck Stop has gone to continue profiting off the tiger’s misery.

A lawsuit, filed by Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin in 2012, argues that Louisiana’s 2006 ban on private ownership of big cats is unconstitutional. Sandlin has been able to maintain captivity of Tony despite the ban because he has challenged the constitutionality of the big cat ban and also successfully lobbied Louisiana to pass Act 697, a law exempting Sandlin – and only Sandlin – from the big cat ban. Sandlin’s lawsuit is intended to allow Sandlin to buy and exploit another tiger after Tony dies.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s motion for summary judgment challenges both of these legal tactics employed by Sandlin to keep Tony at the truck stop. The motion demonstrates Louisiana’s common sense ban on private possession of big cats was an appropriate and constitutional exercise of the state’s authority. The motion also demonstrates the “special law” exempting Sandlin from the big cat ban was unconstitutional. If the court agrees with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and upholds the ban while striking down the exemption, Sandlin’s possession of Tony will again be illegal and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will have a duty to intervene on Tony’s behalf.

“Tony could have been moved to a reputable sanctuary years ago. A reputable facility has a standing offer to welcome him, but Tony’s owner is intent on placing his personal profit over the tiger’s well-being,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We remain hopeful that the legal system will do right by the law and allow Tony to live the rest of his life away from diesel fumes and roaring highway noise.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund thanks the law firms Jones Walker, Proskauer Rose, and Baker Donelson for providing pro bono representation in the case.

http://aldf.org/press-room/press-releases/animal-legal-defense-fund-files-motion-for-summary-judgment-to-free-tony-the-tiger-once-and-for-all/

ALDF: “We will continue fighting for Tony, in Candy’s honor”   Leave a comment

From Stephen Wells – Executive Director of The Animal Legal Defense Fund | April 24, 2017

On Friday afternoon, the Animal Legal Defense Fund received devastating news; Candy the chimpanzee had died. To hear of any animal’s death is heartbreaking, but losing Candy was especially difficult. For decades, Candy was held captive at Dixie Landin’ amusement park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in lonely, cramped captivity and without any interaction with other chimps. Her isolation was torture.

In November 2015 we filed a lawsuit against Sam Haynes and the Dixie Landin’ amusement park under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for inhumanely confining Candy in isolation and neglecting her welfare. We also made multiple offers to transfer her to a sanctuary capable of meeting the needs of such a complex, intelligent, social creature. It is a tragedy that Candy spent her final days in such conditions.

I’m writing to tell you about this today because I want you to know that we will never stop fighting for animals like Candy. Everyone here at the Animal Legal Defense Fund is heartbroken over Candy, but this terrible loss highlights the urgency of similar cases of animals in captivity.

For six years we have had litigation pending to release Tony, a 16-year-old tiger in potentially declining health held captive at a truck stop less than an hour away from where Candy was held. I assure you that we will continue fighting for Tony, in Candy’s honor. 

I wish I never had to write to you with such sad news, but it’s important to us at the Animal Legal Defense Fund that everyone knows we will never forget Candy, and we will never stop working to save animals like her and Tony.

Thank you for your tireless effort to help us release Candy from her barren cage. May she rest in peace now.

For the animals,

Stephen E. Wells
Executive Director

https://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5154/t/19504/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1391023

A Truck Stop is No Place for a Tiger! Why We Won’t Stop Fighting for Tony   Leave a comment

Posted on One Green Planet | April 20, 2017

by Stephen Wells – Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Executive Director

At this moment a 16-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger named Tony is caged at a gas station truck stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana, 20 miles outside of Baton Rouge. Confined to a cramped metal cage, Tony breathes in diesel fumes daily while passersby tease and harass him. Tony has lived this way for nearly his entire life, and his circumstances are often a shock to the average person, who feels innately that this is not the right place for a tiger, especially an aging one with neglected veterinary needs. People ask, “how can this be legal?” and the Animal Legal Defense Fund believes firmly that it’s not. In fact, we’ve been fighting for over six years to have Tony relocated to a sanctuary that can meet his complex needs and give him the veterinary care he is entitled to. Our campaign to save Tony is now even more dire after reports raising concerns about Tony’s health.

Let Tony Live the Rest of His Days in Comfort

All across the world, people follow Tony’s story. Recently, we’ve received many reports from worried citizens stating that Tony appears lethargic and is experiencing diarrhea and a decreased appetite. The Animal Legal Defense Fund obtained photo and video evidence and enlisted the help of a veterinarian with experience treating exotic animals to review it. In the vet’s expert opinion, Tony is likely suffering from kyphosis of the spine and an injury or other condition that is causing him to limp. This isn’t run-of-the-mill aging; Tony needs help. Living at a truck stop is, at the least, exacerbating Tony’s poor health. While no animal is suited to living at a truck stop, tigers are particularly ill-equipped because of their sharp sense of smell and sensitive hearing. Independent of all our pending legal work to free Tony, the Animal Legal Defense Fund just submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which licenses the Truck Stop under the federal Animal Welfare Act, urging that Tony be inspected by a licensed specialist and given any necessary veterinary care.

The Legal Battle for Tony’s Safety

We believe that Tony, and all big cats held in captivity, deserve to live in environments that meet their psychological and physical needs. Our campaign to remove Tony from his particularly grim captivity at Tiger Truck Stop has been lengthy and determined. Michael Sandlin, the owner of the truck stop, however, has pulled out all the stops to keep Tony in captivity.  He has spent over $750,000 fighting our efforts and has also manipulated the legislative system by successfully lobbying the Louisiana legislature to pass a special exemption designed solely to benefit Sandlin and allow him to keep Tony. It’s no surprise that Sandlin puts up such a fight; he’s been exploiting tigers like Tony for decades, using them as a gimmick to lure customers to his gas station. The USDA has cited Sandlin numerous times for violations ranging from failure to provide veterinary care to lack of clean drinking water. In 2003, Sandlin relinquished three tigers amid public outrage over his treatment of the big cats. Only Tony remains.

Inspired in part by Tony’s plight, then Representative Warren Triche, Jr. introduced legislation in 2006 to ban private possession of big cats in Louisiana. The law passed, and while it was a tremendous win for the big cats saved from being the next Tony, Sandlin continued to hold Tony in violation of the law. The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for unlawfully issuing Sandlin a permit to exhibit Tony. We were joined in the suit by former Rep. Triche, Jr. and several other Louisiana taxpayers. Both the trial court and the Louisiana Court of Appeal held that Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop were ineligible for a big cat permit and could no longer keep Tony captive. In October 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court let that decision stand. Still, Tony remained at the truck stop.

Despite the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s victory, which should have freed Tony and allowed him to be moved to sanctuary, Sandlin has been able to keep Tony in captivity because of two legal tactics that he has pursued relentlessly.

First, after the trial court ruled against Sandlin and while his appeal was pending, he filed a separate lawsuit challenging the big cat ban as unconstitutional.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with concerned Louisiana citizens, promptly filed a petition to intervene in that action to defend the constitutionality of the big cat ban.  Both the State of Louisiana and the Animal Legal Defense Fund argued Sandlin’s claims were barred because he failed to raise them in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s prior action.  Those arguments are still pending today, nearly five years later.

Second, Sandlin manipulated the legislative system by successfully lobbying the Louisiana legislature to pass Act 697, a special law designed to exempt Sandlin – and only Sandlin – from the big cat ban. It was signed into law by then Governor Jindal. The Animal Legal Defense Fund again immediately went to work, suing the state of Louisiana and arguing Act 697 violated the Louisiana Constitution because it was a “special law” designed to benefit one individual from existing state public safety and animal welfare laws. We were again joined in the suit by former Rep. Triche Jr. and other concerned Louisiana citizens.

We’re Not Giving Up

The Animal Legal Defense Fund recently combined its challenges to both of Sandlin’s legal tactics into the same action, filing an amended petition in intervention in Sandlin’s lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the big cat ban.  This will allow the Animal Legal Defense Fund — in one motion — to raise arguments both challenging the constitutionality of Act 697’s exemption for Tony and explain why Sandlin’s challenges to the big cat ban itself should fail.  A ruling in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund on such a motion should finally put an end to Sandlin’s legal tactics and provide a final resolution allowing Tony to be relocated to sanctuary.

As the world watches the ups and downs of the fight to save Tony, the tiger’s life remains essentially the same. He doesn’t know his story inspired a former Representative to come out of retirement to fight for him, or that the big cat ban will help others of his kind. All he knows is life in a cramped cage off the highway. Tony deserves the veterinary care he needs and to live out the rest of his life in peace. He doesn’t just deserve it, we believe he’s guaranteed it under the law. We won’t stop until Tony is safe.

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/we-wont-stop-fighting-for-tony-the-truck-stop-tiger/

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