The Grrrreat Debate Over Tony the Tiger

La. truckstop operator, animal rights activist in big catfight over fate of big cat

GROSSE TETE, La. -- The saga of Tony the Tiger continues, pitting a truckstop owner against animal rights activists to determine whether the Siberian Bengal tiger can remain at the retail outlet or be sent to a sanctuary.

The Grosse Tete, La., retail location has bred and kept tigers on site for more than 20 years, and the animals have served as a draw for the business. Tony is the only remaining cat. Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin has long been under fire from animal welfare advocates who say the tiger does not belong in a cage with a concrete floor and cement block "den" as a roadside attraction.

Sandlin and the activists cite a great deal of conflicting evidence as to whether the cat is being cared for properly or mistreated. And Sandlin has claimed that the activists themselves have tried to harm Tony to make their case. The tiger has a grassy enclosure and shelter larger than required by law and has documented veterinary care. It cannot be released to the wild.

The Louisiana Court of Appeal has ruled that Sandlin does not meet the legal requirements for a state permit to keep Tony and cannot receive a grandfather permit to keep the animal, reported The North Country Gazette.

The court held that while the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) lacked standing to be a plaintiff in the case, the court confirmed that Louisiana residents and taxpayers do have the standing to challenge illegal actions by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (DWF).

In October 2011, a lower court ruled in favor of the ALDF and taxpayers in a lawsuit to remove Tony from the truckstop. Judge Michael Caldwell had agreed with ALDF's argument that the permit that allows Sandlin to keep Tony was issued unlawfully. The judge ordered the DWF to revoke the permit and prohibited it from issuing any new permits to the truckstop.

Sandlin appealed, allowing the tiger to remain at the truckstop for another year and a half.

The court has now found that on Aug. 15, 2006, Tony was not owned by Sandlin; rather, he was owned by Tiger Truck Stop. The ownership and possession of Tony by Tiger Truck Stop and the possession by Sandlin in Iberville Parish was in violation of a local ordinance, and thus, illegal. Although that local ordinance was amended in 2009 retroactive to Aug. 15, 2006, the amendment to the ordinance did not change the fact that on Aug. 15, 2006, neither Tiger Truck Stop nor Sandlin legally owned Tony. Only an individual who legally possessed an exotic cat and who could prove legal ownership of that cat is entitled to a permit for that cat.

The court affirmed that the part of the judgment granting a final, permanent injunction against DWF, enjoining it from issuing any new permits to Sandlin or Tiger Truck Stop, said the report.

Sandlin's lawyer has said she intends to seek rehearing of the Court of Appeal's decision, as well as review by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Sandlin also has his own lawsuit to invalidate the state's big cat ban.

The ALDF said it will continue to fight to ensure Tony ends up in a sanctuary. Click here to view the group's website about the tiger.

Click here and click here to view the Tiger Truck Stop's website about Tony.