By Alicia Graef | April 16, 2017
Efforts to free Tony, a Siberian-Bengal tiger who is being used as a living attraction at a truck stop in Grosse Tete, La., have been going on for years, but things just took an urgent turn over concerns that his health is failing.
Tigers have been an unfortunate feature at the Tiger Truck Stop since the 1980s, but over the years Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin has racked up numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), ranging from mishandling tigers and failing to provide veterinary care and proper shelter to unsanitary feeding practices and not having properly trained employees – and he may soon be facing more.
Sandlin’s other tigers were removed as a result of his violations in 2003, but Tony was left behind. His advocates have continued to argue that a truck stop, where he’s constantly surrounded by noise and diesel fumes, is no place for a tiger, and now concerns about his health have led to calls for an investigation.
This week the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), which has been working to secure Tony’s freedom, formally called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to inspect the Tiger Truck Stop over concerns about Tony’s health that have been raised by members of the public and a private investigator.
Specifically, the ALDF wants the USDA to investigate AWA violations and determine whether Tony’s medical condition requires immediate independent veterinary care and treatment.
According to the ALDF, “Tony has been observed experiencing diarrhea, potentially suppressed appetite and lethargic behavior. A veterinarian with expertise treating exotic animals like Tony has reviewed recent photos and video and concluded he is suffering from at least two issues, including a kyphosis (or abnormal rounding) of the T-L spine and an impairment causing him to limp.”
“Tony should have been transferred to a sanctuary years ago, but now that his health is potentially failing, the cruelty of confining him in a gas station parking lot is compounded,” said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “At this point it’s the USDA’s responsibility to step in and enforce the federal Animal Welfare Act.”
There’s Still Hope for a Better Future for Tony
At 16-years-old, Tony’s been languishing at the truck stop for close to two decades, but there’s still hope he will be freed, and moved to a sanctuary.
Even though the state passed a law that banned the private possession of big cats back in 2006, court cases involving Tony have been ongoing. Legally, Sandlin lost the battle years ago, and Tony should have been moved, but Sandlin somehow got enough support from lawmakers to pass a law, Act 697, in 2014 which exempts only himself from that ban.
Earlier this month the ALDF took steps to challenge that law by petitioning the court for permission to intervene in a current lawsuit Sandlin has going against the state, arguing “that this ‘one man exemption’ violates the state constitution, which prohibits ‘special laws’ designed to benefit a specific private individual or interest.”
“If the Court upholds the big cat ban and strikes down Sandlin’s exemption from it, Sandlin’s ownership of Tony will again be illegal and the state would be empowered to seize Tony and move him to a reputable sanctuary,” Anthony Eliseuson, ALDF Attorney, told Care2.
Eliseuson added that the ALDF is “doing everything within its power to move the case towards a successful resolution for Tony as quickly as possible,” and that there are several reputable sanctuaries that would be able to provide Tony with a home.
Hopefully the law banning big cats will be enforced as it was intended, and Tony will soon be spending his days enjoying a far different kind of life.
Photo credit: Animal Legal Defense Fund