Letter: Man never had right to keep tiger as roadside attraction at truck stop

There’s been much emotional rhetoric about Senate Bill 250, which would allow Michael Sandlin to keep his tiger, Tony, at his Gross Tete truck stop. The following time line may be useful to readers and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who will decide the animal’s fate.

1993: Iberville Parish Ordinance prohibits keeping wild animals as pets or for display. Despite this, Sandlin started buying, breeding, selling and exhibiting tigers at Tiger Truckstop.

2003: After numerous USDA citations for “unsanitary feeding practices, failure to provide veterinary care, shelter from inclement weather, clean drinking water and knowledgeable employees to care for the tigers,” three tigers were removed. Tony was left behind.

2006: Our Louisiana Legislature passed Act 715, requiring the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to enact regulations prohibiting citizens from keeping tigers as pets. They provided an exception for big cats legally owned before 2006 but required an annual permit from LDWF. Sandlin was ineligible because he and Tony do not live on the same property.

2009: Iberville Parish amended its ordinance to allow Sandlin to keep Tony if he met a number of physical conditions and was permitted by LDWF. Despite the fact that Sandlin was ineligible for a permit, the LDWF issued him one.

2010: The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with several Louisiana residents as co-plaintiffs, sued the LDWF for unlawfully issuing Sandlin a permit.

November 2011: Judge Michael Caldwell ruled that Sandlin was ineligible for a permit under state regulations and ordered LDWF to revoke Sandlin’s permit and not issue any new permits. ALDF filed another lawsuit demanding LDWF enforce the law.

April 2013: Louisiana Court of Appeal agreed with Judge Caldwell that Sandlin is ineligible for a permit to keep Tony.

Judge Caldwell’s original ruling that Sandlin cannot have a permit still stands. LDWF has agreed to uphold the law.

Last month, Sandlin garnered enough support in our Legislature to create a new law, just as he had the Iberville Parish ordinance amended, just for him. In my opinion, this is a last-gasp attempt by Sandlin to avoid and evade the law. He has never had the “right” to keep a tiger at his truck stop, as he claims. Creating a loophole for one individual has attracted national attention and makes Louisiana look ridiculous.

Tony is a pawn in this debate, but as a living creature, he doesn’t deserve to remain a roadside attraction at a gas station when he could live his remaining years free roaming at a big cat sanctuary. And, surely, Colorado is an environment much closer to his native Siberia than south Louisiana.

Hopefully, Gov. Jindal will veto Senate Bill 250. It’s the right thing to do.

Juliette Dauterive

land manager

Baton Rouge