Attorneys representing Michael Sandlin, who owns Tony, a 550-pound Bengal tiger residing at Sandlin's Tiger Truck Stop, argued before a three-judge 1st Circuit Court of Appeal panel yesterday to keep Tony where he is, despite arguments from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).
Sandlin's attorney Jennifer Treadway Morris argued that state District Judge Mike Caldwell was not allowed to deny the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) from issuing Sandlin a new permit to keep Tony in 2011. When the department didn't enforce Caldwell's ruling, the ALDF filed another suit to prompt the department to take action and remove the tiger from Caldwell's custody. (The department has since said it would not take action until litigation ended.) At yesterday's hearing, however, the department argued that the ALDF had no legal standing to sue the department.
ALDF attorney Brandy Sheely argued that Tony's health and safety (and the public's) interfered with the ruling, and referred to LWDF rules stating that big cat permits must be issued to an individual (not Tiger Truck Stop, a business) and that the owner must live there. (Sandlin also has filed a suit against the state to overturn its ban on big cat ownership — current law, which went into effect August 2006, allows exotic cats as pets if owned before then.) For now, the groups expect a decision in the appeal case in the coming months, while Tony remains at the truck stop.
"As this is going on Tony is still living at the truck stop, day in and day out," said ALDF communications director Lisa Franzetta. "At this point we’re confident the law is on our side. ... The law says Sandlin can’t have Tony at the truck stop. It's just legal delay tactics that keep the process going."
Pending a conclusion to the years-long legal tug of war, and if the state rules that Tony has been kept illegally at the truck stop, Tony will not live with another private owner in Louisiana, as the state outlaws big cat ownership. It's likely he will leave Louisiana, as there are no fitting sanctuaries in the state. "ALDF’s hope is for the best possible outcome for Tony — that he goes to an accredited big cat sanctuary where he can live out his life in a habitat appropriate for a tiger, with his own welfare and quality of life as the first priority," Franzetta said.