Tony, a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger, is not permitted by Louisiana law to remain at a Grosse Tete truck stop, state District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled Wednesday in Baton Rouge.
Caldwell issued a similar ruling in May, but the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal directed him to hold a second hearing that included arguments on behalf of Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop Inc. near Interstate 10 in Iberville Parish.
“The intent of the law is on my side,” Sandlin insisted after the hearing.
Sandlin and his attorney, Steve LeBlanc, said Caldwell’s latest decision will be appealed.
LeBlanc said he will ask the 1st Circuit to permit a suspensive appeal, which would allow Sandlin to keep Tony at the truck stop until after an appellate decision has been rendered.
Caldwell concluded Wednesday that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries violated its own rules by exempting Sandlin and Tiger Truck Stop from permit requirements for owners of big cats.
Caldwell ordered Wildlife and Fisheries to pay all costs of the proceedings, which were initiated by a civil suit filed by the nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Frederick Whitrock, attorney for Wildlife and Fisheries, would not comment on Caldwell’s decision after the hearing.
Bo Boehringer, deputy press secretary for Wildlife and Fisheries, later said: “The judge’s decision is being reviewed right now. We don’t have a statement at this time.”
Lisa Franzetta, communications director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said Caldwell’s ruling was in the best interest of the tiger and public safety.
“We believe Tony shouldn’t be kept there,” Franzetta said. “He shouldn’t be kept at a truck stop as a roadside show.”
Franzetta added the big cat should “live out his life in an accredited sanctuary.”
If he loses his appeals, Sandlin said, “Where Tony goes is up to me.”
Sandlin said he would send Tony to GW Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla.
“If I had to relocate him tomorrow, that’s where he would go,” Sandlin added.
“That’s not an accredited sanctuary,” Franzetta said. She added that the Animal Legal Defense Fund will research state laws for a means of sending Tony to such a sanctuary.
“That’s our endgame in this case,” Franzetta added.