The latest brawl comes in the form of the lawsuit filed this week by Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) against Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which last December granted Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin a permit to continue to keep the ten-year-old animal at his Tiger Truck Stop on I-10 in the town of Grosse Tete in Iberville Parish.
The grandfather clause
“In 2006, the Louisiana Legislature passed, and the governor signed, Act 715, a law requiring the state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to control the private possession of wild cats, including tigers like Tony,” ALDF Staff Attorney Matthew Liebman told Animal Policy Examiner (APE) in an email interview. “The Commission wrote regulations that banned private possession of tigers, with a “grandfather” clause that permits people who legally owned tigers when the law passed to keep them.”
“Our lawsuit states that Mr. Sandlin was ineligible for a grandfather permit under the regulations because he did not legally own Tony when Act 715 was passed, because at that time Iberville Parish had a law prohibiting private possession of tigers,” Liebman explained. “Furthermore, Mr. Sandlin does not live on the premises, which is a requirement for a permit.”
Sandlin’s prior skirmishes included several citations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) between 1997 and 2007, when he owned and bred many more tigers, charging him with violations of the Animal Welfare Act such as “unsanitary feeding practices, mishandling tigers, failure to provide veterinary care, failure to provide shelter from inclement weather, failure to provide clean drinking water, and repeatedly failing to have knowledgeable employees caring for the tigers,” according to a “FactSheet” compiled by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries nonetheless saw fit to allow Sandlin to keep Tony at the truck stop through 2011, prompting ALDF to legal action.
A 'natural' life?
Outspoken animal advocate and True Blood star Kristin Bauer van Straten has entered the fray, lending her voice and fame to free the tiger from what she calls a “low-rent jail.”
"This could not be further from his natural, God-intended life," she wrote in an email interview. "[Tony] is living a life harsher than we sentence the worst offenders in our society to."
Liebman said ALDF's goal is "to get Tony moved to a reputable and humane big cat sanctuary where he can live out his natural life free of the fumes, toxins, and noise that make his current life so miserable. If the permit is revoked, Sandlin will no longer be able to possess Tony in the State of Louisiana.”
Along with the lawsuit ALDF has launched a petition drive aimed at revoking Sandlin’s permit.
On the other side of the battle line, Sandlin offers a “Keep Tony at Home” petition that reads "Tony, a tiger raised from infancy by hand, is the target of a misguided attempt to remove him from the people that raised him, love him, and take care of him daily. He has known no other life, and receives great food, and the best medical attention when needed... "
Meanwhile, at a truck stop on an interstate, a tiger paces, staring back at the sightseers who have come to stare at him, and waits.
APE’s telephone messages left for Sandlin have not yet been returned.