State Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, has introduced Senate Bill 250 to exempt certain big-cat owners from a state law banning exotic pet ownership. In essence, the law would only apply to Michael Sandlin, the owner of Tony, a 13-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger that has been kept at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete outside Baton Rouge for more than a decade.
The bill passed the Senate's Committee on Natural Resources April 15. The committee amended the bill to remove an exemption for people who hold a USDA Class C exhibitor's license, a license which Sandlin possesses.
If made law, Ward's bill would grandfather permits for "persons who obtained their animal by lawful means and continuously possessed their animal since August 15, 2006." There is an ongoing lawsuit and debate, however, over whether Sandlin has complied with state and municipal laws of exotic pet ownership.
The Louisiana Supreme Court rejected Sandlin's petition last October to review the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal's ruling that Tony can't live at the truck stop. In 2011, the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) for unlawfully issuing a permit to Sandlin to keep Tony.
In April 2013, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal held that Sandlin can't keep Tony, nor can he keep a permit issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
A Change.org petition requesting Ward to pull the bill has gathered more than 3,700 signatures as of press time. — ALEX WOODWARD