Free Tony the Tiger by Dean Sullivan

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By Diane Sullivan, Holly Vietzke, and Rose Church/Guest columnists
Posted Sep 15, 2011 @ 01:57 PM
Last update Sep 15, 2011 @ 03:08 PM

Parents in Massachusetts bring their children to the zoo to see tigers. Parents in Maine need only bring them to their neighbor’s house, where it is legal to keep a tiger as a pet. In fact, the Bangor city code prohibits a resident from having more than three dogs as pets, but a tiger – or any wild animal -is perfectly fine.

States regulate the keeping of tigers within state lines, and the laws vary state to state. Today, 21 states allow private citizens to acquire or keep a tiger as a pet with as little a requirement as a license or permit (and some do not even require that). In fact, more tigers live within the United States than in the rest of the world, although the total number is speculation since there are no tracking or monitoring regulations in place. The state of Texas alone has more tigers (more than 2,000) than all of India (1,700).

One reason for the preponderance of tiger-owners is the increasing number of cub-petting displays in malls which, under practices established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is legal when a tiger is 8- to 12-weeks old. Aside from the cruelty and abuse this represents for the tigers, exhibitors line their pockets as they send the wrong message that these cute, wild animals can be kept as pets.

The private keeping of wild, exotic animals as domestic pets generally leads to the animal being kept in horrible, deplorable conditions, risking harm to both the tiger and the public. In fact, thousands of tigers are living in abysmal conditions in cages, often owned by people who buy them on a whim.

And what happens to these cubs – which were bred for this sole, profitable purpose – after 12 weeks? More than likely, the cub ends up spending its life in a small concrete cage or is sold for its “parts.” It may even end up in your local butcher shop – hardly a fair fate for such a noble beast.

In 2003, upon tips from tenants, police discovered and removed a Bengal tiger living in an apartment in Harlem. Although owning tigers is illegal in New York, police suspect that the tiger was purchased legally elsewhere as a cub and brought to the city. This is precisely why a federal ban is necessary. Yet the federal government has actually made it easier to own a tiger when, in 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted the licensing requirement for “generic” (non-purebred) tigers.

Buying Tony the Tiger is not just for breakfast anymore.

Progress is indeed being made in this arena. A little over a month ago, a judge in East Baton Rouge (La.) District Court ruled that Tiger Truck Stop, owned by Michael Sandlin, has seen its last permit to keep Tony, a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger, on display.

The national, nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund, which spearheaded the effort to free Tony, reported that although the court did not revoke the current permit, it did issue a permanent injunction preventing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from renewing the permit again come December. Without question, the “unhealthy and unnatural environment of a truck stop” is not a suitable habitat for a tiger or any animal.

As a result, Tony, who has lived at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La., for the past decade, will finally be headed for a new home.

In addition, Massachusetts School of Law (MSL), which boasts one of the oldest and premier animal rights programs of any law school in the country, is taking a lead role in helping these noble animals. Following is just a partial list of our efforts:

– On July 25, 2011, Rose Church, an MSL alumna, spearheaded conference at the International Fund for Animal Welfare Office in Washington, D.C., which we attended along with other experts and major animal advocacy groups. The purpose was to discuss the current captive tiger problem, determine solutions, and draft appropriate legislation. Attendees for the meeting included The World Wildlife Fund; Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, Born Free USA; Wild Cat Conservation Legal Aid Society; Animal Legal Defense Fund; U.S. Humane Society; the Ian Somerhalder Foundation; World Council for Animal Rights, Inc.; and Big Cat Rescue.

– We have been in contact with the office of U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to see if he will sponsor a bill addressing the problem.

– Attorney Christopher A. Leverone, an MSL alumnus and associate at the Law Offices of Bruce A. Bierhans, LLC, has been working on gaining political support for this initiative within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

– We will be meeting on a weekly basis with current MSL students, who will be conducting legal research on current bills, drafting legislation, and fact gathering.

– We are also working to schedule a meeting with the USDA to get agreement on banning the practice of allowing the 8- to 12-week petting loophole, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstitute the permit requirement for cross-bred tigers.

No private citizen should need a captive tiger as a backyard pet; there is no justifiable reason for doing so. Tigers should live in the wild or in well-maintained, accredited sanctuaries, not kept in unlit trailers (during the exhibitions) or cages that are too small for them to do anything but turn around.

The breeding, sale, and trade of tigers need to be banned completely, beginning with the 8- to 12-week petting loophole, which serves no purpose other than to make money for those who cruelly mistreat the cubs.

For our government to endorse this is ignorant, deplorable, and shameful.

Diane Sullivan is an assistant dean and professor at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, and also serves as director of the school’s Animal Rights Program. Reach her at Holly Vietzke is an assistant professor at the school and is co-director of the Animal Rights program. Reach her at Rose Church is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law and CEO of World Council For Animal Rights, Inc. Reach her at

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