Archive for the ‘U.S. Department of Agriculture’ Tag

From ALDF: Tony, the Truck Stop Tiger 11.29.2012   Leave a comment

tony 01The Truck Stops Here…

From the stench of fuel to the drone of diesel engines and the isolation of his roadside prison, Tony, a 12 year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger, has endured more than a decade of misery at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. That is why the Animal Legal Defense Fund has taken to the Louisiana courts to free Tony the Tiger from this truck stop nightmare. We won our lawsuit to prevent Tony’s “owner” Michael Sandlin from renewing his permit, but Sandlin appealed, and we are waiting for the Louisiana Court of Appeal to hear the case. Sandlin subsequently filed his own lawsuit to overturn the state’s ban on big cat ownership. ALDF sought to have the case dismissed and is waiting for the trial court to decide if the suit will move forward.

Sandlin has exploited tigers for over 20 years: buying, breeding, selling, and exhibiting tigers in poor conditions for his own profit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited Sandlin’s truck stop in the past for unsanitary feeding practices; mishandling tigers; and failure to provide veterinary care, shelter from inclement weather, clean drinking water, and knowledgeable employees to care for the tigers. In 2003, Sandlin’s animal welfare violations sparked public outcry, and three tigers were removed to a Tennessee sanctuary. The USDA allowed Sandlin to keep one tiger: Tony. He has been alone ever since.tony 02

Life at the truck stop is harmful to an animal with such sensitive hearing and acute sense of smell, says veterinarian Jennifer Conrad, who has cared for captive large cats for nearly two decades. After visiting Tony, she declared he is “in poor condition and needs intervention on his behalf.” In addition to exposure to noise and diesel fumes, Tony is taunted by truck stop visitors. His enclosure lacks adequate enrichment. He has no pool of water to cool off in the blazing heat of the summer. As a result of this stressful confinement, Tony constantly paces in his enclosure, putting him at risk for dangerous and painful veterinary conditions.

His suffering demonstrates the problem of privately-owned tigers, whose numbers exceed that of wild tigers. There are less than 500 Siberian and only 2,500 Bengal tigers left in the wild. In their natural habitat, tigers live alone, travel many miles to hunt, and avoid humans.

ALDF Sues to Have Tony Freed

In 2010, ALDF sued the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) for unlawfully issuing Sandlin a permit to keep and exhibit Tony. ALDF was joined by several Louisiana residents as co-plaintiffs, including Warren Triche, the state representative who authored the Louisiana state law banning private ownership of tigers. In November 2011, Judge Michael Caldwell ordered LDWF to revoke Sandlin’s permit and prohibited the agency from issuing future permits. Sandlin appealed this decision to the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit. We have briefed the case and are awaiting an oral argument date. Once the court hears our arguments, we will await a final decision. Meanwhile, Sandlin continues to exhibit Tony without a permit.

LDWF publicly stated it intends to enforce Louisiana law when litigation has concluded—although they could seize Tony now, at their discretion. State law bars Sandlin from owning and exhibiting a tiger because he did not legally own Tony when Louisiana’s big cat ban went into effect, and because Sandlin does not live on the premises where Tony is held captive. After all, who would want to live in a truck stop? Not Sandlin… and definitely not Tony.

ALDF Intervenes to Defend Big Cat Law

After losing his permit, Sandlin filed his own lawsuit against the State of Louisiana, the LDWF, and Iberville Parish to overturn the state ban on private possession of big cats. This suit flies in the face of national sentiment, public safety, and animal welfare concerns. After the massacre of 48 exotic animals in Ohio in 2011, state and federal bills (like HR 4122) are being considered to prohibit ownership of big cats. Although ALDF was not named as a defendant in Sandlin’s suit, we successfully petitioned the court to allow us to intervene in the case to support Louisiana’s right to safeguard public safety and the welfare of animals like Tony. LDWF and ALDF each filed exceptions to Sandlin’s case, seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed, and a decision is expected soon.

Next Steps: We Wait While Tony Paces

The world waits with bated breath for the results of ALDF’s suit and of Sandlin’s appeal. Meanwhile Tony remains trapped at the truck stop. ALDF’s legal battle for Tony has drawn support from high profile advocates like Leonardo DiCaprio and True Blood’s Kristin Bauer van Straten and has galvanized activists around the world. The law firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell, & Berkowitz, P.C. is providing pro bono assistance.

We are currently waiting for the Louisiana Court of Appeal to hear our case. We are also waiting for the trial court to decide if Sandlin’s suit will move forward. Tony’s fate is tied up in the courts, but ALDF is keeping the pressure on.

We will post updates on Tony’s case as they become available.

NOTE: Article courtesy of  Animal Legal Defense Fund. You can leave a comment of thanks to ALDF and support for Tony at the end of this article here: on ALDF’s Facebook page: and retweet on Twitter:

Let’s continue our positive dedicated advocacy on behalf of Tony. Thank you.

Oklahoma park probed in tiger cub deaths   Leave a comment

Tony, the Siberian-Bengal tiger mix on display at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, reclines in a grassy area in his cage in this December 2010 photo. / Patrick Dennis

By Koran Addo
Westside bureau
December 20, 2011

GROSSE TETE — Tony, the 550-pound tiger on display at Tiger Truck Stop, could be bound for an exotic animal park in Oklahoma that federal officials say is under investigation after 23 tiger cubs died there.

Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin said he intends to send the 10-year-old Siberian-Bengal mix tiger to G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla., if forced by the courts to relocate the animal from its roadside display.

Animal-rights activists have been fighting to move the tiger from the truck stop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture began an investigation of G.W. Exotic Animal Park on June 15, 2010, after learning of the tiger cub deaths, according to Dave Sacks, USDA spokesman

“We first conducted an inspection and subsequently opened an investigation into the matter,” Sacks said Friday. “That investigation continues.”

Sacks said he didn’t know when the investigation will be completed and declined further comment.

Sandlin said Monday he has toured several animal sanctuaries and is “100 percent comfortable” sending the tiger to the Oklahoma park run by Joe “Joe Exotica” Schreibvogel.

Schreibvogel did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

“The deaths are a concern to me,” Sandlin said. “But I understand there was a problem from the manufacturer with the powder that you mix with water to feed the cubs and some cubs died. I don’t blame Joe for that. It’s just a terrible thing.”

Sandlin said of the 13 tiger cubs born at Tiger Truck Stop in the past 25 years, one was stillborn; another one died for undetermined reasons; and a third, fully grown white tiger, died of pancreatic cancer.

“I have a pretty good record, but you’re going to have problems,” Sandlin said. “I know Joe will love and take care of Tony.”

Sandlin said he chose G.W. Exotic Animal Park because Schreibvogel promised to build an enclosure roughly the same size as Tony’s 3,200-square-foot home at the truck stop.

Schreibvogel previously said he had a 5,000-square-foot cage ready for Tony and is trying to raise $120,000 to build him a 10,000-square-foot habitiat with a swimming pool, waterfall and shade trees.

Last week, Schreibvogel said his business has raised only $100 toward the cause.

Schreibvogel’s promise to keep Tony out of public view was one of the determining factors in choosing the animal park as a final home for the tiger, Sandlin said.

He said he wants Tony to have a quiet retirement.

“It’s not that I want him totally isolated, because he’s used to being around people. There are truck drivers that he recognizes, he’s used to being petted and he’s grown up accustomed to kids stopping by to look at him,” Sandlin said.

He said park staff would be around to care for Tony, so he won’t be isolated.

“It would be cruel to isolate him, “ Sandlin said. “He could grieve himself to death.”

Sandlin also said the park is close enough to his family’s home in Stillwater, Okla., where Sandlin could visit him periodically.

Tony’s future ultimately is up to the courts in Louisiana.

In May, state District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries could not issue any new permits allowing Tiger Truck Stop to keep the tiger on display.

The judge’s ruling came after the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued Wildlife and Fisheries, arguing a permit can only be issued to an individual, not a corporation, and the individual must live on the premises.

Tiger Truck Stop is the permit holder, not Sandlin.

“Mr. Sandlin and Tiger Truck Stop should be required to abide by the rules,’’ the judge said at the time.

A three-judge panel of the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal threw out that ruling in August after deciding Sandlin and Tiger Truck Stop Inc. deserved to be heard as a party in the dispute

Caldwell took up the matter again last month and ruled for a second time the truck stop could not get another permit under Louisiana law.

The truck stop’s permit will expire at the end of the month.

Sandlin’s attorney, Steve LeBlanc, said Monday he asked Caldwell to suspend the ruling barring the state from issuing another permit until the judge can consider Sandlin’s request for a new trial.

If the judge doesn’t grant a new trial, LeBlanc said he will file another appeal with the 1st Circuit. Caldwell’s judgment isn’t final until the appeal process runs its course, according to Bo Boehringer, a spokesman for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

If Sandlin’s appeal is denied, Boehringer said, his agency would give Sandlin 30 days to move Tony to a sanctuary of Sandlin’s choosing.

Louisiana Judge Pulls Permit for Truck Stop Tiger   Leave a comment

In this in Nov. 2008, file photo, Tony the tiger paces in his cage in Grosse Tete, La. (AP Photo/ The Advocate, Patrick Dennis, File)

By MARY FOSTER Associated Press

GROSSE TETE, La. November 3, 2011 (AP)
Leonard Foster peered into the cage holding the 550-pound tiger at the Tiger Truck Stop in Louisiana and snapped one photo after another in awe.

“He’s so big. He’s wonderful,” exclaimed Foster, a 47-year-old trucker from Atlanta.

Foster might just be lucky to see the tiger when he did. If a state district judge’s ruling stands, this tiger named Tony may not be at the truck stop much longer. And gone will be one of the biggest curiosities for truckers and motorists coming off a nearby interstate into the south Louisiana community of Grosse Tete.

Judge Mike Caldwell ruled Wednesday in favor of a motion by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to force the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to revoke the permit that allows Tiger Truck Stop Inc. and its owner, Michael Sandlin, to keep the tiger at the business.

For years, the Siberian-Bengal mix has been a draw for gawking motorists who patronize this truck stop, buying food, gassing up and sticking around to get a picture with Tony. Since he was 11 weeks old, Tony has been at the truck stop, bottle fed as a cub.

Sandlin and the truck stop company argue that moving the tiger now would be cruel.

But Caldwell disagreed. His ruling also would bar Wildlife and Fisheries from issuing a new permit to keep Tony at the stop. He ruled that the agency failed to abide by its own rules in issuing the permit, rules that state tigers must be owned by an individual. The corporation that owns the truck stop is listed as the tiger’s owner.

Caldwell had issued a similar ruling in May. But in August, an appeals court ruled Caldwell had to hold another hearing to collect input from Tiger Truck Stop Inc. and Sandlin.

Sandlin’s attorney, Steve LeBlanc, pointed out in court that seven other tigers beside Tony have been kept at the truck stop in the past 22 years and none ever escaped.

The truck stop is neatly kept, flowers blooming outside, on a quiet road away from the interstate. The cage has a grassy area, a large water tank for Tony to swim in, hanging tire and other toys — even shade and an air-conditioned den.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund contends it’s dangerous holding a big tiger at a business. It recalled last month’s episode when an owner of exotic wildlife in Ohio released wild animals before taking his life.

“Louisiana has a law designed to protect people from animals like this,” said Lisa Franzetta, a defense fund spokeswoman.

Wildlife and Fisheries has rules requiring the owner of such an animal to live on the premises. But Sandlin’s home is about five miles away, even though an employee lives at the stop and the business is staffed around the clock every day of the year.

Sandlin said all employees have taken the state hunter safety course, there’s a written plan to handle an escape and a “kill gun” and a tranquilizer gun are kept at the stop.

The 3,600-square-foot cage is surrounded by a 10-foot chain link fence topped with barbed wire, set back several feet.

“I’ve seen the exhibit and I think the tiger is safe from the public and the public is safe from him,” said Rick Dietz, general curator at Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. “That does not rule out operator error, but that could happen anywhere.”

But on this sunny afternoon, the tiger paced languidly and none watching cited safety concerns.

One man ate fried chicken nearby. Another sought a picture of himself and the tiger behind him.

“I don’t worry about it being unsafe,” said Ricky Arnold, a local who brought his 3-year-old son. “He’s got that big old cage and nothing has happened all these years.”

The defense fund has argued the enclosure is substandard and the arrangement unsuitable.

“It’s just common sense that a tiger doesn’t belong in a truck stop,” Franzetta said.

Sandlin notes the pen and the tiger are inspected annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Neither he nor Wildlife and Fisheries have decided if they will appeal Wednesday’s ruling. Sandlin said he was more inclined to sue authorities to force them to issue another permit.

“I’ve done everything they ever told me to do,” he said, tears brimming in his eyes. “There is no reason to say I can’t keep my tiger. He is my pet, not just an advertising gimmick.”

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