Tigers Don’t Belong at Truck Stops
Tigers Don’t Belong at Truck Stops
It gets hot in Grosse Tete, Louisiana, especially during the summer. To see the temperature crack 100 in the August heat and humidity isn’t rare. And during those days, there aren’t many less pleasant places to be than a truck stop right off the interstate. The heat rising off the asphalt, the oppressive humidity, and, of course, the fumes from dozens of idling diesel engines turn the Tiger Truck Stop into a little slice of hell on Earth. It’s brutal. It makes you want to run for the nearest shady spot, away from the stench of gas and boiling blacktop.
Tony the Tiger doesn’t have that option. He’s a Siberian/Bengal Tiger, and he’s been there at the Tiger Truck Stop every day of his nine years on this Earth. He lives his life around noisy, idling diesel trucks in a cement-floored cage. At night, the flood lights come on; the truck stop is open 24 hours a day, therefore so is Tony’s life.
That he’s there at all is a testament to the greed and selfishness of one man: Michael Sandlin, owner of the Tiger Truck Stop. You see, in Sandlin’s mind, Tony isn’t a living creature, he’s just added value. A marketing gimmick. That’s why Sandlin has repeatedly refused to find Tony a home that’s conducive to a healthy, happy lifestyle. When an accredited sanctuary for big cats offered to step in to find Tony a new home, Sandlin gave them the cold shoulder.
And Tony shouldn’t have been there in the first place. A local ordinance passed in 1993 forbids private ownership of exotic animals, but that ordinance was never enforced. Last year, feeling the heat, Sandlin worked his local elected officials, and got an exemption. It passed 11-1. The conditions attached would be laughable, were the situation not so dire — rubber sleeping mats, a larger pool, heaters for the cold winter nights. As a sop to people concerned about Tony’s welfare, Sandlin installed a sign asking people to please refrain from throwing things at the tiger.
If the local government was unhelpful, the state was downright duplicitous. In August 2009, while reviewing Sandlin’s application to continue to keep Tony, the state official in charge of Large Carnivore Management for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Maria Davidson, wrote:
“… private possession of tigers … is detrimental to the health of the animal. Prolonged confinement is by its nature stressful to tigers and proper long-term care by experienced persons is essential to the health of the animal.”
The words inspired hope, but the state’s actions were anything but good. Despite acknowledging that keeping a tiger in a truck stop violates every known principle of good management and humane treatment, the State of Louisiana granted Sandlin’s application in December of last year.
There is hope on the horizon. If the locals won’t help and the state won’t help, then how about the feds? Here, we have recent precedent. Just last week, agents from the USDA seized four tigers being kept at a tattoo parlor in Indiana and removed them to a sanctuary. Will they step in for Tony? Clearly, they need to.
Meanwhile, summer is coming on in Grosse Tete, and Tony’s cage isn’t getting any more comfortable.
You can help. Add your name to the petition, started by an anonymous Change.org member on Tony’s behalf, to boycott Tiger Truck Stop, and hopefully the locals will change their minds, or at least decide that it’s in their best interests to say no to Michael Sandlin for once. You can follow Tony on Twitter. You can stand up for him on Facebook.
I want to you get mad about this. I want you to be righteously outraged at Michael Sandlin and his warped morals; at Maria Davidson and her hypocrisy; at the Iberia Parish Council and their stony refusal to put common human decency before rank economic boosterism.
Our refusal to accept this cruelty is the light at the end of a hot, cement-floored, nauseous-smelling tunnel for Tony.
Photo credit: Mihai Bojin
Martin Matheny Martin Matheny is a political consultant and animal welfare writer based in Athens, GA.