★ Tiger Truck Stop Ordered to Release Tiger
* By GREG GARLAND
* Advocate Westside bureau
* Published: Nov 21, 2008 - Page: 1B - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
GROSSE TETE — State wildlife officials have given the owner of Tiger Truck Stop 30 days to remove a live tiger from the premises, cheering animal welfare activists who have fought for years to close the exhibit.
But the truck stop's owner, Michael Sandlin, said Thursday he is considering filing suit to block the state from forcing him to get rid of the 8 1/2-year-old Bengal tiger named Tony.
"We're going to fight for our right to have a tiger here," he said.
The order to remove the tiger came in a letter to Sandlin, dated Monday, from Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert J. Barham.
The letter says a 1993 Iberville Parish rule prohibits private ownership of "wild, exotic, vicious" animals for exhibition.
The ordinance means Sandlin does not qualify for a required state permit that would allow him to keep the tiger.
"The tiger presently located on the premises of Tiger Truck Stop must be legally removed from the premises to a Department-approved facility or out-of-state within 30 days from the date of this notification," Barham wrote.
Sandlin has been cited frequently over the years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failing to meet the minimal standards of care for animals used in exhibition. The most recent citation was issued in July 2007 for failing to clean cages to maintain adequate sanitation.
Sandlin denies he has failed to properly care for Tony and other tigers he has kept on the site.
Holly Reynolds with the Coalition of Louisiana Animal Advocates, expressed delight when told of the state's order.
"That's wonderful news," said Reynolds, whose group has battled the truck stop for several years.
She credited a Melbourne, Fla., woman, Sky Williamson, with waging an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign in recent months to get the 550-pound tiger removed and placed in a healthier and more suitable environment.
Williamson, who has been working as a cable company contractor in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, said she began working the phones and sending out e-mails ever since seeing the tiger for the first time in January.
"I will never forget that day," Williamson said. "It took me down to my knees. There were 15 big trucks lined up nearby, all of them running. The smell was horrid. There was feces all over the cage."
Sandlin said the state's letter ordering him to remove the tiger caught him by surprise.
Tony had been "grandfathered" in under a state law that took effect in 2007 that prohibits individuals after that date from owning exotic and dangerous animals, Sandlin said.
However, Sandlin said, the new law required him to meet certain requirements and to obtain a state permit to continue keeping the tiger. He said he was working to comply so he could obtain the permit.
Among other things, he said, he bought a tranquilizer gun and a "kill gun" and had a microchip implanted in the animal so it could be tracked if it ever got loose.
"We've exhibited tigers for 21 years without a problem," Sandlin said.
The Iberville Parish ordinance surfaced after state wildlife officials asked the parish if there were any local laws on the books dealing with the keeping of exotic animals.
"Nobody ever noticed it before," Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said.
Ourso said the parish government has received many calls through the years from animal welfare advocates complaining about the care of tigers at the truck stop. But he said the issue is regulated by federal and state authorities.
Sandlin said he hasn't decided yet what action he would take.
"We have to make a decision whether to relocate the tiger or file a lawsuit to stop them," he said. "We're leaning toward filing a lawsuit. We think it's very unfair."
Sandlin said he exhibited tigers at a truck stop in Houston but moved to Grosse Tete in 1987 after the Texas city passed a law prohibiting him from keeping tigers there.
"I'm really totally surprised that the state of Louisiana is bowing to pressure from animal rights activists," Sandlin said. "They're talking about taking away my right to have the cat. &hellip It's just another right we're going to lose."
As recently as 2003, Sandlin had four Bengal tigers caged at the truck stop.
He agreed to give up three — keeping only Tony — to settle complaints from federal regulators that he wasn't properly caring for the animals. He agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and repair the exhibit but admitted no guilt.
Beth Price, director of the Exotic Pets Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, said tigers are dangerous wild animals and should be kept only in well-run zoos, not by private individuals.
According to the Humane Society, 12 people have been killed by captive big cats since 2001.
Price said the tiger needs to be placed in a different environment for its own health and safety and to protect the public.
"Hopefully this is a happy ending for this animal," she said.
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★ Trouble in Tigerland
By Emily Turner
Story Created: Nov 21, 2008
There's trouble in tigerland tonight, not at LSU, but in Iberville Parish. The owner of the Tiger Truck Stop has been ordered to remove his big attraction, a 430 pound cat.
The owner of a feline is facing a deadline Friday night. In a matter of weeks, the Tiger Truck Stop could be tigerless.
Tony the tiger has been one of the main attractions at the gas station off Exit 139 on Interstate 10 for almost 8 years.
Wife of the owner, Sharland Lasseigne, says, "He's a very good drawing card for the community and our business. We're named Tiger Truck Stop and we're known for having our live tiger."
Workers say they have done everything they can to make this habitat a good home.
"It probably cost $15,000 to build the cage and it cost a lot of money to feed the tiger we have to order a special diet food that we have brought in by transport."
David Lasseigne, Tony's keeper, says, "I come in and wash his cage out, clean the mess up in play yard."
This is why it has come as such a surprise to its owners that their cat has 30 days to be relocated.
"Where were they at 11 years ago and say we have an ordinance in the book and you can't have a cat anymore."
Animal rights activist Sky Williamson says it should have happened sooner than this. Williamson is a cable contractor and first laid eyes on Tony back in January.
"I saw the sign, I thought it was a joke. I pulled in and it brought me to my knees." She believes this is not a proper home. "There were feces everywhere, blood, he was pacing back and forth like he is doing now which is a sign of high stress."
She applauds the state and says she is willing to put up the $15,000 that would be required to relocate him. "He needs to be taken to a sanctuary, somewhere he will get proper nutrition and he will be able to live a life without this."
Williamson claims he has spent too long under these conditions, "He may have 8 years left. All we can do is take him to live somewhere that's much better."
Some people who live near the truck stop say they'll launch a petition drive to keep Tony the tiger right where he is.
Sign Sky Williamson's petition to send Tony to a sanctuary here:
★ According to PeTA: Print the updated Tiger Truck Stop Fact Sheet
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals • 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510
757-622-7382 • PETA.org •
★ Tiger Truck Stop Timeline
The following is a timeline of events leading from 1988 until now. Michael Sandlin and his father Wendell both had truck stops with tigers in TX and then Michael moved his to LA. His father's cats were seized and sent to a sanctuary sometime around 2001. All but one of Michael Sandlin's tigers (Tony) were seized and removed in 2003. USDA License #72-C-0116, I-10, Exit #139, Grosse Tete, LA 70740
★ January 15, 2009 LA: Big Cat Rescue hired Attorney David Nance to speak on their behalf and for Tony the tiger at the Dec. 20, 2009 Iberville Parish council meeting.
★ January 10, 2009 LA: Big Cat Rescue wrote Robert Barham, the attorney for LAW&F sending him a summary copy of the 11,992 letters sent by of our supporters, along with a spreadsheet of their names and complete addresses for verification. This was also sent to the Iberville Parish council President J. Mitchell Ourso, Jr. and to the Mayor of Grosse Tete at 18125 Willow Street Grosse Tete, LA 70740. Robert Barham's address is 2000 Quail Dr. Baton Rouge, LA 70898-9000.
★ January 5, 2009 LA: Big Cat Rescue filed a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General because Michael Sandlin solicits donations, but is not registered as a non profit.
★ December 29, 2008 LA: Big Cat Rescue wrote James D. "Buddy" Caldwell the LA Attorney General explaining the situation and asking him to render an opinion. They also wrote the Governor. No response.
★ December 17, 2008 LA: Big Cat Rescue learned of the injunction and diverted the rescue team to MS to rescue a liger and two tigers who had been abandoned.
★ December 16, 2008 LA: Michael Sandlin and about 15-20 of his employees and family attended the Iberville Parish and asked that the council amend their 1993 ban to grandfather him in. Sky Williamson, Carole Baskin and about 15-20 supporters asked to be heard. The council originally said that we could not be heard, but then reversed and allowed Sandlin to speak for 3 minutes and Sky Williamson to speak for 3 minutes. Sandlin presented a petition bearing 700 names and Williamson presented a petition bearing 1900 names. Only 115 of Sandlin's names had addresses and investigation is going on to see how many of them are verifiable. Many are not. The council did not comment or debate, but just went back to talking about drainage issues. Video of the testimony in online at FreeTony.com
★ December 15, 2008 LA: Michael Sandlin, through his attorney, Joseph B. Dupont, Jr. P.O. Box 627 23635 Railroad Av Plaquemine, LA 70764 225.687.6893 fax 225.687.0227, filed a petition for Temporary Restraining Order and Injunction to keep the LAW&F from seizing the tiger. Case #67,287 18th Judicial Circuit. The Order was signed by Judge J. Robin Free on Dec. 16, 2008. A copy of the entire pleading is online at FreeTony.com
★ November 22, 2008 LA: Big Cat Rescue wrote Michael Sandlin and offered to take the tiger to FL at no cost to him. When he did not respond Big Cat Rescue contacted Maria Davidson at the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. offering to assist them in seizing Tony the tiger on Dec. 19, 2008.
★ November 17, 2008 LA: The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. issued a citation to Sandlin giving him 30 days to find a home for the tiger outside of the state of LA, as he was not in compliance with the 1993 Iberville ban on displaying wild animals. Sandlin was given until Dec. 16, 2008 to find placement.
★ October 22, 2008 LA: The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. wrote Michael Sandlin advising him that his application had been placed on hold based upon their discovery of the 1993 Iberville ban. Part of their new rules (LAC 76: V. 115. H.13) require that the facility be in compliance with all local ordinances.
September 1, 2008 LA: Hurricane Gustav plows through LA with 110 MPH winds. See images of the truck stop in the video at FreeTony.com to see billboard signs torn down and the roof of the pumps, next to the tiger cage, ripped off the island. It is unknown how much of the unrepaired damage at the Tiger Truck Stop was from Gustav and how much of it was from Katrina, but it is obvious that the tiger cage could just as easily been destroyed.
★ July 20, 2007 LA: The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. wrote Michael Sandlin advising him of the new state rules. They gave him an application to fill out and told him his tiger would be grandfathered in if they issued the permit.
★ July 11, 2007 LA: The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enacted regulations that prohibit private possession of lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, cougars and their hybrids as pets. People who legally had these animals as of August 15, 2006, when a state law requiring regulation of the animals took effect, can keep them but not breed or replace them. They must apply for permits and meet standards for cages, insurance, and microchips. The animals must be kept in safe and sanitary conditions. They cannot be taken from the premises except to receive medical care.
★ July 2, 2007 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to clean cages as often as necessary to maintain adequate sanitation.
★ July 26, 2006 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to maintain structurally sound cages for the tigers.
★ April 25, 2003 LA: A USDA order assessed Tiger Truck Stop a $2,500 fine and limited the facility to possessing or exhibiting no more than two exotic cats because of repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Three were removed from the facility (Rainbow, Toby and Khan) but Tony was left behind.
★ November 12, 2002 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to correct a previously identified noncompliance of not utilizing a sufficient number of adequately trained employees.
★ August 15, 2002 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to correct previously identified noncompliances of not utilizing a sufficient number of adequately trained employees to care for the animals (the only caretaker's hours had been cut and he had not received training as mandated by previous reports) and failure to provide food free of contamination and of sufficient nutritive quality. Tiger Truck Stop was also cited for improper food storage.
★ May 9, 2002 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to correct previous noncompliances of not maintaining structurally sound facilities, which "indicate an ongoing lack of maintenance plan," and failure to utilize a sufficient number of adequately trained employees, which was demonstrated by a lack of veterinary care. There was only one employee assigned to care for five large cats in addition to other tasks. Tiger Truck Stop was also cited for failure to provide veterinary care to a female tiger who appeared to have "arthritis or some form of posterior paralysis" and exhibited "severe atrophy of quadriceps muscles," as well as failure to provide food of sufficient nutritive quality and prepared in a manner to prevent contamination.
★ October 9, 2001 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to correct a previously identified violation of mishandling tigers . The inspector wrote, "The caretaker informed me [that the two tiger cubs] were removed a week ago for declawing. The first evening at the veterinarian's, the male cub died."
Tiger Truck Stop was cited for failure to maintain facilities. The inspector wrote, "There has been no progress in repairing and/or repainting metal bars. This total neglect is resulting in rapid deterioration of [the] structural soundness of [the] entire facility and may result in future escapes."
The USDA also cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to have a sufficient number of adequately trained employees. The inspector wrote, "Over the past several inspections, I have dealt with different employees whose primary function was not animal care. The management of this facility does not seem to place great store [in] or adequately reward caretakers. ... Judging by the state of disrepair of the facility, more outside help is required. There is also some question as to the expertise of the employee caring for the cubs, [one of whom] died."
★ August 28, 2001 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to a tiger cub who was thin and underweight. Tiger Travel Plaza was also cited for failure to maintain caging to protect the animal from injury, contain the animal, and protect the animal from public contact and for improper food storage. Michael Sandlin's father, Wendell Sandlin was ordered to give up all of the tigers he kept at his TX truck stop. Seven of them went to a sanctuary in CO sometime after this date.
★ July 24, 2001 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to have a program of veterinary care, for mishandling animals, for failure to maintain cages, and for improper food storage. The inspector wrote, 'Two 3-week-old cubs [are] being bottle raised in [the] truck stop office. They are loose in [the] manager's office and are being shown to customers. For their own safety and health, these cubs must be moved to a designated area which is in compliance and off limits to customers. They must also be contained to prevent [their] being walked on or otherwise injured. - By virtue of being loose, they have extreme potential of ingesting harmful agents."
★ January 29, 2001 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for unsanitary feeding practices and failure to clean and sanitize a tiger cage made of plywood and carpet that smelled of urine.
★ 2000 LA: Tony the tiger was born. Some say at the truck stop to Rainbow, and others say he was not born there. Sandlin says the cat has lived there his entire life, but isn't reported as saying that Tony was born there. Anyone who can prove the origins of Tony is encouraged to report it at the link above that says Report Abuse.
★ November 28, 2000 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to correct previously identified violations of not providing records of veterinary care and mishandling tigers . The inspector wrote, "The three young tigers are walked outside on a leash and still used for pictures. The two white tigers [weigh] at least 60 lbs. [each] and should no longer be used in direct public contact."Tiger Travel Plaza was cited for failure to provide minimum space . The inspector wrote, "The two white tigers are housed inside in light-gauge chain-link dog runs (approximately 5'x5'). Tony is tied behind the counter in the store by a dog collar and leash." Tiger Travel Plaza was also cited for failure to provide a veterinarian-approved diet.
★ August 21, 2000 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to have a responsible and knowledgeable attendant present during periods of public contact and failure to provide a safety barrier. The inspector wrote, "Baby tigers are housed in [a] cage behind the counter inside the store. - A barrier must be in place to prevent public contact. - The baby tigers are being used for pictures." The inspector also noted that records of veterinary visits must be available for review.
★ August 24, 1999 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to provide veterinary care and failure to provide wholesome and palatable food.
★ August 23, 1999 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for unsanitary feeding practices, failure to clean water receptacles with algae growth, and poor housekeeping.
★ September 23, 1998 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to provide drinking water and failure to maintain records of acquisition and disposition.
★ November 5, 1997 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to provide shelter from inclement weather.
★ September 12, 1997 LA: According to The Baton Rouge Advocate, Tiger Truck Stop sold two tiger cubs for $2,500 to a couple passing through on a camping trip. One of the cubs suffered from fluid collection around the joints in her front legs, a condition linked to living on concrete.
★ August 9, 1996 LA: According to The Baton Rouge Advocate, hazardous materials workers from several agencies, wearing protective gear, worked to control a leak of a hazardous and corrosive chemical called formic acid from a box trailer parked at the Tiger Truck Stop.
★ 1996 - 2009 LA & FL: Big Cat Rescue reports that they have received more complaints about the Tiger Truck Stop than all other complaints combined. These became common after they established a web presence in 1996. Big Cat Rescue consistently contacted USDA and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department, as well as the media, but it wasn't until November 2008 that the media really began taking note, thanks in large part to Sky Williamson who has been working on this since January 31, 2008.
★ December 14, 1993 LA: According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune, Tiger Truck Stop was evacuated for five hours after a tanker truck ruptured, spilling 400 gallons of highly flammable aviation fuel at the truck stop.
★ September 14, 1993 LA: According to The Baton Rouge Advocate, Tiger Truck Stop, another truck stop, and 60 homes were evacuated after a driver reported that his trailer was smoking. The trailer was packed with drums of highly toxic sodium cyanide.
★ 1993 LA, Iberville Parish: Sec. 3-91. Display of wild or exotic animals prohibited. No person shall keep or permit to be kept on his premises any wild, exotic, vicious animal or reptile for display or for exhibition purposes whether gratuitously or for a fee. This section shall not apply to zoological parks, performing animal exhibitions, circuses or veterinary clinics. (Ord. of 4-20-93)
★November 6, 1989: According to the Houston Chronicle, Tiger Truck Stop was raffling off an 11-month-old, 350-pound Bengal tiger named Gloria who was living in a 16'x7'x7' cage attached to a flatbed trailer. The entry forms, which released Tiger Truck Stop from liability, informed potential winners that they could "donate [her] to a zoo, sell [her], or give [her] to a friend" in the event that the winner did not want to keep the cub.
★ January 1988: Michael Sandlin moves his tigers from the Texas truckstop to the Grosse Tete Truckstop that he had purchased the year before.