Truck stop owner vows to fight for tiger

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A truck stop owner who has a tiger at his business says he will continue to fight to keep his big cat, despite losing a court challenge.

Last week, the state Supreme Court refused to hear Michael Sandlin’s appeal over a license he lost to keep the 550-pound Bengal tiger in his 3,200-square-foot cage near Baton Rouge. Animal rights groups and state wildlife officials have been fighting Sandlin in court for years, saying a truck stop is no place for a tiger.

Sandlin said he probably won’t appeal the high court’s decision but will continue a second bid to keep Tony by challenging a 2006 law giving the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries jurisdiction over big and exotic cats.

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“To be quite frank, I don’t really want a state permit. I think the state exotic animal ban is unconstitutional and discriminatory,” he said Tuesday.

The agency has described Tony as the last privately owned big cat in Louisiana. Sandlin said he doesn’t know when state District Judge Janice Clark will schedule a hearing in his lawsuit challenging the ban.

Federal laws and rules already protect the animals, Sandlin said, and Tony gets 20 pounds of meat a day and has regular veterinary care.

If Tony must leave Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, the tiger would go to Joe Schreibvogel’s animal park in Wynnewood, Okla., Sandlin said. Sandlin grew up in nearby Oklahoma City and the two are good friends.

The Humane Society of the United States brought state and federal complaints last year against Schreibvogel’s G.W. Exotic Animal Park — now called The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park — after an undercover investigation. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture this year not to renew Schreibvogel’s license.

Schreibvogel and Sandlin said he properly cares for the animals.

“I know that he loves and cares for the animals. I’ve been to the park and seen firsthand the care that the animals get,” Sandlin said.

On Saturday, a tiger at Schreibvogel’s park ripped up a keeper’s arm, but Sandlin believes it was not the animal’s fault. He said the woman trainer disobeyed the park’s basic protocol by inserting her arm into the enclosure.

In Louisiana, the Animal Legal Defense Fund won its lawsuit to revoke Sandlin’s license to keep Tony when the state Supreme Court refused without comment on Friday to hear Sandlin’s appeal.

Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., said she was at the truck stop in 2009, when the state wildlife department told her it was going to seize Tony and asked her to take custody. The noise of idling trucks and the smell of diesel was no place for a tiger with a sensitive nose and ears, she said.