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Louisiana Supreme Court Allows Victory for Tiger to Stand
Last Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied a petition to review the decision of the Court of Appeal in the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) ongoing case to protect Tony, the Siberian-Bengal tiger confined at Grosse Tete, Louisiana’s Tiger Truck Stop by Michael Sandlin. In 2011, ALDF sued the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) for unlawfully issuing a permit to Sandlin to keep and exhibit Tony. With pro bono assistance from Baker Donelson, ALDF was joined in the suit by several Louisiana taxpayers, including Warren Triche, the state representative who authored the Louisiana state law banning private ownership of tigers. In April of this year, the Court of Appeal held that Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop are ineligible for a big cat permit and can no longer keep Tony. Sandlin sought review of that decision, but last Friday the state Supreme Court declined to take the case. Although Sandlin could appeal further to the U.S. Supreme Court, the lawsuit raises no issues of federal law, so the Court could not grant review.
Back in 2009 Big Cat Rescue had been asked by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife to come rescue Tony as they were confiscating him and felt that the Tampa based sanctuary would be an excellent home for him. Sandlin obtained an emergency injunction to prevent Tony from being rescued, so Big Cat Rescue became the first organization in the U.S. to hire an attorney to represent a tiger. Sandlin was able to thwart a number of attempts through the good ol boy network in Iberville Parish, but the Animal Legal Defense Fund took over and just wouldn’t give up.
Meanwhile, on October 5, an employee at G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma was attacked by an adult male tiger and almost lost her arm. Michael Sandlin has declared his intention to send Tony to G.W. Exotic if forced to relinquish him. The controversial zoo has been the subject of undercover investigations and houses more than 200 dangerous exotic animals that it breeds and uses for public interaction. ALDF is asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to investigate the horrific attack at G.W. Exotic. Given the animal welfare and public safety failings at G.W. Exotic, ALDF is calling on LDWF to ensure that Tony is transferred to a legitimate and reputable sanctuary. Sending Tony to G.W. Exotic would violate both Louisiana and Oklahoma state laws.
Still ongoing is Sandlin’s own lawsuit, alleging that the Louisiana state ban on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals is unconstitutional.
“We are relieved to see this case reach its end,” said Matthew Liebman, senior attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Nearly three years after we asked the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries not to issue a permit to the Tiger Truck Stop, the highest court in the state has declined to prolong this case further. We call upon the Department to do the right thing and send Tony to a reputable sanctuary, before we face another tiger tragedy.”
Copies of the lawsuit and photographs of Tony at the Tiger Truck Stop are available upon request.
Posted on October 7, 2013
Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund
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