Advocate staff writer
Published: May 7, 2011 - Page: 1B
The last annual permit the agency issued to Tiger Truck Stop was in December 2010, which means Tony the Siberian-Bengal mix can remain at the Grosse Tete facility only until this December — barring any appeals or new legal action.
Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin, who did not attend Friday’s court proceeding, vowed in a telephone interview to sue the state and give animal rights activists a “run for their money.’’
“They have asked for it now,’’ he said, referring to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national nonprofit group that sued DWF and prompted state District Judge Mike Caldwell’s ruling.
ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells called the judge’s decision an “incredible victory’’ for Tony and the thousands of people around the world who have supported the effort to free the tiger.
“We eagerly look forward to the day that he leaves behind the noise and fumes of the Tiger Truck Stop for a new life of freedom that he has never known,’’ Wells said.
Caldwell said the tiger has been on display at the truck stop since 2001.
“I’m not here to decide whether it’s right or wrong to keep a tiger at a truck stop,’’ the judge said at the outset of his ruling.
Caldwell agreed with ALDF that a permit can only be issued to an individual, not a corporation, and that 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.
Wildlife and Fisheries attorney Frederick Whitrock said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse that he needed to confer with DWF Secretary Robert Barham but noted that Barham has previously indicated he would not be inclined to appeal a ruling that went against the department.
Whitrock noted that Caldwell, who heard arguments Thursday from Whitrock and ALDF attorney Brandy Sheely, ruled Friday that the department’s actions regarding the permit were neither arbitrary nor capricious.
ALDF sued DWF last month to have the tiger removed from the Interstate 10 truck stop.
Caldwell said he had “no authority whatsoever’’ to order the tiger released to ALDF, something the group had proposed.
“The tiger is the property of Tiger Truck Stop or Michael Sandlin,’’ he said.
The ALDF lawsuit cited a 2006 state law that prohibits the private ownership of large and exotic cats.
The law includes a grandfather exception that allows people to keep exotic cats as pets as long as the animals were legally owned before Aug. 15, 2006, when the law took effect.
The animals rights group claims the tiger was not legally owned by the truck stop prior to that date because a 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance prohibits anyone from owning “wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or for exhibition.’’
Sandlin alleged Friday that the 2006 law is unconstitutional.
DWF spokesman Bo Boehringer has said Tony is the last privately owned big and exotic cat in the state.
There were four privately owned tigers living in the state when the Legislature acted in 2006, he said. The owners of three of those tigers opted to have the cats moved to the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio.
Sandlin has said in the past that Tony is well cared for, healthy and happy. He also has said he will consider placing Tony in an animal sanctuary as the tiger ages. Tony is 10.