Humane Society debates tiger Tony
By ASHLEY M. BAILEY
Advocate staff writer
Published: Jan 11, 2009 – Page: 2B – UPDATED: 12:05 am
PLAQUEMINE — The Humane Society of Louisiana held a special meeting Saturday to organize a new chapter in Iberville Parish, but the gathering also opened the way for more debate over the future of Tony, the 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger on exhibit at an Interstate 10 truck stop.
For eight years, Tony has been the main attraction at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete. Animal welfare activists have been urging Tony’s owner, Michael Sandlin, to move the tiger to an animal sanctuary.
Sandlin has repeatedly defended his right to possess and exhibit the tiger, asserting it would be cruel to move it away from the only home it has ever known.
Representatives from both sides met at the Iberville Parish Library on Saturday afternoon for another round of discussion.
The meeting was hosted by Jeff Dorson, director of the Humane Society of Louisiana, with headquarters in New Orleans. He said he believes the opposing sides have more in common than they have differences.
Dorson said he had invited Sandlin to Saturday’s meeting to “establish a respectful rapport.” Sandlin did not attend the meeting, but he sent the truck stop’s manager, Penny Rivet, to represent him.
Rivet read a statement to the group reiterating Sandlin’s position on the future of Tony, but added that Sandlin would be open to suggestions on improving Tony’s living conditions.
“We are disappointed that legislators and the Fish and Wildlife council have given in to (activists) that think they know what is best for a tiger,” Rivet said. “He is a hand-raised pet accustomed to human love and affection.”
Rivet also said Sandlin would consider having an exotic animal expert determine Tony’s overall health and well-being.
“There’s a difference between people who just want to take Tony away from us and those who want to help us,” Rivet said.
The last time the two sides met was during an Iberville Parish Council meeting in December. The two sides engaged in a heated debate that led to some animal welfare activists being escorted to their vehicles by law enforcement officers.
Saturday’s discussion was decidedly more peaceful, with both Rivet and Dorson saying they were pleased to meet with one another.
“I thought it was very constructive. It opened up a dialogue, and they were very gracious,” Dorson said.
Last month, Sandlin sought a court injunction to prevent anyone from taking Tony away from the truck stop. A court hearing that had been set for Dec. 29 was postponed to allow the Iberville Parish Council time to consider amending a 1993 parish ordinance that bars private individuals from exhibiting dangerous, wild animals such as tigers.
If the council amends the law, it opens the door for Sandlin to continue keeping the tiger as a roadside attraction.
Sandlin could be forced to move the tiger if the council refuses, however, because he would not qualify for a permit from the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Both sides said Saturday they would be willing to meet again and discuss the issue further.
During the same meeting Saturday, Dorson and parish residents established a chapter of the Humane Society in Iberville Parish.
The Humane Society of Louisiana is a grassroots organization that is not affiliated with any national animal rights groups.