- Tiger’s fate discussion gets unruly in hallway
- By GREG GARLAND
- Advocate Westside bureau
- Published: Dec 17, 2008 – Page: 1B – UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
PLAQUEMINE — The battle over the fate of a tiger on display at a Grosse Tete truck stop turned ugly at an Iberville Parish Council meeting Tuesday night as opposing sides nearly came to blows outside the council chambers.
Animal welfare activists who are trying to get the 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger relocated to a sanctuary and Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin and a group of his employees each made their case in brief remarks to the council.
But when the groups spilled out into a hallway for an interview with a television crew, a fracas erupted.
Members of both sides hurled insults and shouted at each other.
One of Sandlin’s workers, a woman, had to be physically restrained several times from attacking an animal rights activist who called her “an inbred.”
After several minutes of angry exchanges, a police officer was summoned to restore order and escort the animal welfare advocates to their cars.
The issue of what to do with the tiger was not on the council’s agenda, but members agreed to let one representative from each delegation have three minutes to state their cases.
Sky Williamson, an independent animal welfare advocate from Florida who has spearheaded efforts to relocate the tiger to a sanctuary, told council members the tiger needs to be moved for his own health and safety and to protect the public.
She said Sandlin has been cited numerous times by federal officials for improperly caring for the tiger and that displaying him as a roadside attraction is “disgraceful.”
But Sandlin, who has kept tigers at the truck stop for 20 years, told the council that his tiger, “Tony,” is well cared for and should remain where he is.
“Please do not give in to animal rights activists who think they know what is best for the tiger,” Sandlin said. “Do not let Tony be taken away from the only home he’s ever known.”
Outside the council’s chambers, rhetoric became more heated until a police officer restored order.
Whether the council is called upon to make a decision on the tiger depends on what happens at a hearing later this month.
Sandlin won a temporary restraining order Tuesday to prevent state wildlife officials from seizing and relocating the tiger. A hearing on his request for a permanent injunction is set Dec. 29.
Sandlin wants council members to amend an ordinance that prohibits the ownership of exotic animals to “grandfather” in his truck stop.
The delegation of animal welfare activists at Tuesday’s meeting included four representatives of Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary on the outskirts of Tampa, Fla., who flew in to attend the council meeting.
Williamson is not affiliated with that group.
Carole Baskin, the founder and chief executive of Big Cat Rescue, said a barred, concrete cage at a truck stop isn’t a suitable environment for a tiger and that the tiger should be moved to an accredited sanctuary like the one she runs.
Speaking before the council meeting, Baskin said that her group has been in contact with state wildlife officials about taking Tony in at the sanctuary. She said Big Cat Rescue, a nonprofit organization, has 133 big cats on 45 acres.
Baskin said Sandlin “has the opportunity to send the tiger someplace very nice” but chooses instead to keep it in a harmful and unsuitable environment.
Referring to Sandlin’s lawsuit, she said, “It’s not at all about what’s best for the cat but about what’s best for Michael Sandlin.”
Sandlin is trying to buy time to get changes made to an Iberville Parish ordinance on exotic animals, which would allow him to keep the tiger.
“A large portion of the business at Tiger Truck Stop comes from customers stopping to view the tiger exhibit,” his lawsuit seeking an injunction stated.
“Mr. Sandlin will suffer irreparable harm if he is required to relocate his tiger,” the suit stated. “If he is forced to relocate the tiger or if the tiger is seized then he will most likely be prevented from bringing it back to the State of Louisiana.”
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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More info on Tony the Truck Stop Tiger at FreeTony.com