NEW ORLEANS – Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a law on June 18 that will allow Michael Sandlin, owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La., to keep his Bengal tiger, Tony, on-site, reported the Times-Picayune. Senate Bill 250 will make the 14-year-old tiger a specific exception to Louisiana's 2006 ban on exotic cats.
"I'm very happy, very relieved that the threat is gone that Tony gets taken," Sandlin said Friday. "It's been a long, hard battle. It's been no fun being made a villain -- called an animal abuser all [over] the Internet."
In 2012, the Louisiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit ruled that Sandlin's permit to keep Tony was invalid as the tiger's legal owner is Tiger Truck Stop Inc., not Sandlin as an individual. State Sen. Rick Ward (R-Port Allen) sponsored Senate Bill 250 in an attempt to permanently resolve the dispute over Tony.
Despite the governor's support, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), which filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries that ultimately prompted the new legislation, plans to file a challenge to the law in court this week. The new law, to be known as Act 697 following Gov. Jindal's signature, violates a constitutional prohibition against "special laws" by giving preference to an individual to serve a special interest that does not serve the public, said Matthew Leibman, attorney for the ALDF.
Sandlin and his supporters say Tony is happy and well cared for at the truck stop, where he occupies a 3,200-square-foot habitat. They also claim that moving the tiger could cause him stress and potentially endanger his life, and that those who want to move him are motivated by a radical animal rights agenda and profit-seeking behavior through costly litigation.
Leibman dismissed such claims as a scare tactic. "For us, it's absolutely about the welfare for Tony," he said.
The new law goes into effect Aug. 1, but the state plans to allow Tony to remain at the truck stop in the interim.