“Please let me point out, that at no time, have I ever said Tony is abused or cruelly treated. My issue & that of most advocates for Tony, is simply his living enclosure & it’s site at the truck stop. Please see the videos & sign the petition at the end of this post…thank you!”
GROSSE TETE, La. — The American truck stop is a promise of certain reliable’s a shower, a warm meal, some small talk at the counter, a 24/7 source of diesel, beef jerky and cigarettes
Tony, a Bengal-Siberian tiger, is kept on the premises at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La. Web sites have been created urging Tony’s removal, letters have been written, and public officials have been lobbied
The truck stop here just west of Baton Rouge offers all those things, but as most southern Louisianians know, it has another less standard feature: a 550-pound Bengal-Siberian tiger.
Tony is only the latest in a line of tigers to live here. Thirteen cubs were born at the truck stop, and several adult tigers brought in, including a white tiger named Salena who died of pancreatic cancer in the early 2000s and is now stuffed and sitting in the Tiger Cafe atop the salad bar.
Tony, who is 12 years old, spends his days draped languidly on top of his cinder-block den or pacing around the grass in his 40-foot-by-80-foot caged enclosure on one side of the parking lot, seemingly as unriveted by the truckers as they are by him. “The enclosure gates have been filmed open many times, but Tony often prefers to paces back & forth in his concrete enclosure. His enclosure may be large for a tiger living in a yard, but size is nothing…it’s what’s in it that makes all the difference. There is nothing for Tony to do nor any natural foliage to make it appear more like his natural habitat. Tony does not have a swimming pool, although Mr. Sandlin has been quoted several times, saying it is a pool; it’s a horse feed trough or something similar. Irrelevant of what it is, it’s way too small for Tony to sit in never mind swim; In all the years I have been advocating for Tony’s move, i have never once seen him dip so much as a toe in that water trough & I’ll bet nobody can find any evidence of him being in it (apart from possibly when he was a young cub)!”
He also appears unmoved by his role at the centre of a costly and complicated legal dispute, pitting claims of property rights against animal rights and prompting regular news reports about his impending removal. The legal fight has gone on for years. Tony remains.
“It’s become more of a liability than an asset,” said Michael Sandlin, 50, who has run the truck stop for the past 25 years. “But it’s not the money. It’s the principle.”
The Tiger Truck Stop has long been a thorn in the paw of animal rights organizations and many animal lovers generally. Web sites have been created urging Tony’s removal, letters have been written, public officials lobbied. Robert Barham, the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, described “cases of mail from every state and a host of foreign countries.” Still, he said, state veterinarians sent to inspect Tony invariably returned with reports of good health. “Good, I’m glad some vets have seen him, but was it a routine check or did he have bloods, scans etc. to check his internal organs are not being effected by the air born fumes? I would sure like to see a copy of that report!”
Matthew Liebman, a lawyer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in California, acknowledged that Tony’s situation was not the worst he had ever seen, though he and others worry about the tiger’s constant exposure to exhaust and diesel fumes.
“The bottom line for us is that tigers don’t belong in truck stops,” Mr. Liebman said. “I think it reflects a pretty commodified, objectifying view of animals that we don’t support — that they are objects of entertainment, that they are gimmicks to sell gasoline.”
In 2006, the state passed a law that put limits on “big exotic cat” possession, but allowed anyone who owned such a cat at the time to be grandfathered in. Mr. Sandlin, who had kept tigers here for nearly two decades, was granted a permit for Tony. But in a 2011 trial, lawyers for the animal defense fund showed that a parish law that was on the books in 2006 prohibited keeping exotic animals and argued that he should not have been exempted from the new law. The judge agreed and ordered Mr. Sandlin’s state permit revoked.
Mr. Sandlin, who still has a federal permit, has appealed the decision, and has also filed a separate lawsuit arguing that the state law itself is unconstitutional because it is applied unevenly and leaves too much discretion to enforcement officials.
Still, he has been looking for a retirement home for Tony. This search generated its own outcry when he said he was leaning toward a wildlife park in Oklahoma owned by a man who calls himself Joe Exotic, but whose real name is Joe Schreibvogel.
Mr. Schreibvogel’s park has attracted a good deal of controversy itself and is being investigated by federal officials for 23 tiger cub deaths. Although this was found to be tainted formulae. But Mr. Sandlin said he believed that it provided good care, and did not trust others to know what was good for Tony. “Now with Joe Exotic becoming bankrupt, how will this effect Tony, will Mr Sandlin still prefer to move him their, will he still be able to move him their or will he choose an accredited sanctuary; which Tony deserves. Joe Exotic has been asking for donations to build Tony an enclosure, for some time now. He has been quoted as saying, it would be off the usual track visitors take, so Tony can be private! Yet Mr. Sandlin say’s Tony is used to noise??? I have just found the same article on Joe Exotics new web page; the name of the park has change to The Garold Wayne interactive Zoological Park:-http://www.gwpark.org/Tony-The-Tiger.php
“He’s used to the noise from the Interstate and the trucks,” Mr. Sandlin said. “He’s used to people coming up here and looking at him.”
“To tear him away from this,” he said, breaking off, then added, “I think it would be very cruel because that’s what he’s used to.”
Mr. Sandlin and his opponents see the world rather differently. The phrase “animal rights activist,” particularly if it means someone who would ban the private ownership of exotic animals, is to Mr. Sandlin a disparagement on its face. (A T-shirt for sale in the truck stop store reads “Animal Rights Activists Taste Like Chicken.”)
But he takes no offence when critics deride him as a purveyor of roadside entertainment. He considers himself an ally of the travelling circuses that occasionally stop here, and he allows the elephants to graze out back. “Why when he has plenty land at the back, did he build the enclosure at the front; if it was not for monetary gain?”
The idea of a tiger truck stop had been his father’s, but opening one here seemed particularly apt given that the mascot of nearby Louisiana State University is a tiger. (The university keeps its own tiger, Mike VI, in an enclosure next to the football stadium.) “Yes, & you want to see his enclosure in fact I will post a video of it at the bottom so you can see the difference!”
So in 1988, Mr. Sandlin arrived from Houston with Toby and Rainbow, he a mostly Bengal mix, she a pure-bred Siberian. In 2000, after the sale of a tiger truck stop owned by Mr. Sandlin’s father in West Texas, Toby and Rainbow were joined by Tony and Salena. “But didn’t Toby & Rainbow end up at a tiger sanctuary?”
In the ensuing years, the United States Department of Agriculture issued several citations to the truck stop, among other things for allowing cubs to run loose around the office. Mr. Sandlin paid a fine and sold all the tigers but Tony.
About 35 people work at the truck stop, including a sister of Michael Sandlin’s; a brother-in-law; a niece; a nephew; Mr. Sandlin’s mother, Virginia, who handles billing; and his domestic partner of 26 years, Scott Holbrook, who is the vice president of the truck stop as well as the video poker manager. “No mention of the person that cares for Tony, cleans his enclosure or feeds him then?”
There is also a middle-aged man named Ray Jackson, who buses tables at the restaurant and who will sing on command. Seeing him outside the Tiger Cafe, Mr. Sandlin said the word and Mr. Jackson stopped immediately and sang “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.”
“People get a kick out of that,” Mr. Sandlin said.
For now, there is the wait for a ruling. An immediate change is unlikely even then, but as a breed, the tiger truck stop’s days may be numbered.
“There are certainly some substandard roadside zoos,” Mr. Liebman said. “But this is the only truck stop tiger I know of.”
Petition to send Tony to an accredited Sanctuary:– http://www.change.org/petitions/ldwf-ensure-tony-the-tiger-is-released-to-a-reputable-sanctuary
News from the Animal Legal Defence Fund on Tony:–http://aldf.org/article.php?id=1675
UPDATE (15) Aug 11, 2011: Mike VI, the LSU Bengal Tiger Mascot’s HABITAT
My dear friend Cloversweed has around 40 videos of Tony, taken personally with no editing. What you see is what you get. Check out the ones that show no water in the so called pool, & the one with a live kitten sat in Tony’s feed area…Cloversweed has captured a lot of evidence to suggest that a truck stop is not the right place for a Tiger to live. Please visit her Channel:-http://www.youtube.com/user/cloversweed
Uploaded on 13 Aug 2011
Mike, the LSU Bengal Tiger Mascot taken Aug 11, 2011
Mike the Tiger has one of the finest habitats in the USA.
Mike’s HISTORY follows, but first please read the NOTE I have posted below concerning Tony, the “truck stop tiger”.
UPDATE #34 (01.22.13):Tony, “the Truck Stop Tiger”- A Trucker’s Opinion.Vid2
Published on 23 Jan 2013
1. NOTE: You will see ALL TONY in Video One and Tony does not look good at all… http://youtu.be/_oW85GzKEWg
PLEASE READ video description in Video ONE.
2. In this video, Video 2 of 2, Tony had just returned back to his concrete bed and this truck driver came over to try to get a picture. This gentleman also expressed his feelings/concerns about Tony’s situation. I found his views interesting.
3.TONY UPDATE: On Tuesday, February 19, 2013 the courts will hear ALDF’s oral arguments in the appeal to free Tony.
*Video ONE has been submitted to our ALDF contact and we certainly hope can be used in this hearing.
UPDATE # 35 (01.22.13):Tony, “the Truck Stop Tiger” Vid 1 OF 2