State’s top court is next stop for tiger case

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- 'Tony,' an 8-year-old Bengal tiger, paces in his cage last November at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete. An animal rights group is trying to get a judge to put an end to the truck stop's possession of the 550-pound tiger.
Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- 'Tony,' an 8-year-old Bengal tiger, paces in his cage last November at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete. An animal rights group is trying to get a judge to put an end to the truck stop's possession of the 550-pound tiger.

An attorney for a Grosse Tete truck stop and its owner said Tuesday the Louisiana Supreme Court will be the next stop in the case of Tony the truck stop tiger.

“We’re going to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary,” Jennifer Treadway Morris, who represents Tiger Truck Stop and owner Michael Sandlin, said on the heels of an adverse state appellate court order.

A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal on Friday refused without comment to reconsider its April ruling that Tony, a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger, cannot continue to be housed in an exhibit at Tiger Truck Stop off Interstate 10.

The panel on April 25 upheld a previous ruling by state District Judge Mike Caldwell that a 2006 Louisiana law bars the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from renewing Sandlin’s permit to house Tony at the truck stop exhibit.

Caldwell concluded the department violated its own rules by exempting Sandlin and Tiger Truck Stop from permit requirements for owners of big cats. The judge ruled that a state permit can be issued only to an individual, not a corporation. Tiger Truck Stop was the permit holder, not Sandlin, he said.

The truck stop’s last annual state permit expired at the end of 2011.

The appellate court panel, however, overturned Caldwell’s decision to allow the nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of four Louisiana residents who wanted Tony, now 12, sent to an accredited wildlife sanctuary.

In a related suit pending before state District Judge Janice Clark, Sandlin contends that a 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance should not be allowed to ban ownership of “wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or for exhibition.”

Sandlin, who has held a federal permit to keep tigers at the truck stop since 1988, argues a parish ordinance cannot ignore federal rules.

Tony has been at Tiger Truck Stop for more than a decade.

Sandlin also is challenging the legality of the 2006 state law that banned private ownership of large and exotic cats. The law does include a grandfather exception that allows people to keep exotic cats as pets as long as the animals were legally owned before Aug. 15, 2006, when the law went into effect.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has said previously that Tony is the last privately owned big and exotic cat in the state. Sandlin maintains the tiger is well cared for, healthy and happy.