Recent Comments

Channel 19

Todd Dills

A tiger in Louisiana — and we’re not talking LSU football

| January 13, 2009

Louisiana scored a threepeat first in the Worst Roads category in Overdrive’s Highway Report Card survey this year, mostly for the reported awful condition of many sections of I-10 within the state’s borders, where recent battles of animal rights activists have hit the highway running. At exit 139 on I-10 sits the Tiger Truck Stop of Gross Tete, home for many years to a caged Bengal Tiger who is one in a line of predecessors advertised as roadside attractions at the stop. Michael Sandlin, president and owner, has been exhibiting tigers there in violation at least since 1993 of an unenforced Iberville Parish ordinance prohibiting the practice. Last year, animal rights activists waged a campaign to get the parish to enforce the law, and at a December public hearing partly viewable here (posted by the activists, the video edits out most of Mr. Sandlin’s testimony), truckstop employees and activists clashed over the otionally charged issue, the former claiming the tiger as a part of “>the family.” Next week Tuesday, Jan. 20, The Iberville Parish council meets again Jan. 20 and will take up the issue at 6 PM at 58050 Meriam Street, 2nd Floor, Plaquemine, LA 70764.


pVisit, a site administered by a big cat rescue operation and sanctuary based in Tampa, Fla., for info on the activists’ campaign, and for the truckstop, where you can sign a petition to Iberville county to allow the tiger to remain: at press time, there were 332 signatures.

pOne trucker, commenting on a YouTube video and identifying himself only as MIKEL0352, had this to say about the tiger. “>I’m a truck driver, and I’m through Gross Tete quite often. It is very sad how this tiger just paces back and forth on the concrete and sleeps on a concrete bench. Whatever the weather outside, the tiger just sits as a prisoner, like a circus sideshow, no toys to play with … they just throw a shovel of food in twice a day. I really feel bad for this animal. He breathes the exhaust of trucks that park just feet away from his cage, and idle at night to keep warm.”

pAnd the animal’s name is indeed “>Tony.” Not exactly original, I know, and coincidentally, you might remember this post about Louisiana’s superlative ratings in the Best Truck Stops category in the Highway Report Card. They were named the very best in the nation. Perhaps caged tigers have something to do with it?

  • Carole Baskin

    Thanks for sharing Tony#39;s plight with your readers. We are betting that most people do not approve of animal abuse.BR/BR/Tiger Truck Stop TimelineBR/BR/The following is a timeline of events leading from 1988 until now. Michael Sandlin and his father Wendell both had truck stops with tigers in TX and then Michael moved his to LA. His father#39;s cats were seized and sent to a sanctuary sometime around 2001. All but one of Michael Sandlin#39;s tigers (Tony) were seized and removed in 2003. USDA License #72-C-0116, I-10, Exit #139, Grosse Tete, LA 70740BR/BR/January 15, 2009 LA: Big Cat Rescue hired Attorney David Nance to speak on their behalf and for Tony the tiger at the Dec. 20, 2009 Iberville Parish council meeting.BR/BR/January 10, 2009 LA: Big Cat Rescue wrote Robert Barham, the attorney for LAWamp;F sending him a summary copy of the 11,992 letters sent by of our supporters, along with a spreadsheet of their names and complete addresses for verification. This was also sent to the Iberville Parish council President J. Mitchell Ourso, Jr. and to the Mayor of Grosse Tete at 18125 Willow Street Grosse Tete, LA 70740. Robert Barham#39;s address is 2000 Quail Dr. Baton Rouge, LA 70898-9000.BR/BR/January 5, 2009 LA: Big Cat Rescue filed a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General because Michael Sandlin solicits donations, but is not registered as a non profit.BR/BR/December 29, 2008 LA: Big Cat Rescue wrote James D. quot;Buddyquot; Caldwell the LA Attorney General explaining the situation and asking him to render an opinion. They also wrote the Governor. No response.BR/BR/December 17, 2008 LA: Big Cat Rescue learned of the injunction and diverted the rescue team to MS to rescue a liger and two tigers who had been abandoned.BR/BR/December 16, 2008 LA: Michael Sandlin and about 15-20 of his employees and family attended the Iberville Parish and asked that the council amend their 1993 ban to grandfather him in. Sky Williamson, Carole Baskin and about 15-20 supporters asked to be heard. The council originally said that we could not be heard, but then reversed and allowed Sandlin to speak for 3 minutes and Sky Williamson to speak for 3 minutes. Sandlin presented a petition bearing 700 names and Williamson presented a petition bearing 1900 names. Only 115 of Sandlin#39;s names had addresses and investigation is going on to see how many of them are verifiable. Many are not. The council did not comment or debate, but just went back to talking about drainage issues. Video of the testimony in online at FreeTony.comBR/BR/December 15, 2008 LA: Michael Sandlin, through his attorney, Joseph B. Dupont, Jr. P.O. Box 627 23635 Railroad Av Plaquemine, LA 70764 225.687.6893 fax 225.687.0227, filed a petition for Temporary Restraining Order and Injunction to keep the LAWamp;F from seizing the tiger. Case #67,287 18th Judicial Circuit. The Order was signed by Judge J. Robin Free on Dec. 16, 2008. A copy of the entire pleading is online at FreeTony.comBR/BR/November 22, 2008 LA: Big Cat Rescue wrote Michael Sandlin and offered to take the tiger to FL at no cost to him. When he did not respond Big Cat Rescue contacted Maria Davidson at the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. offering to assist them in seizing Tony the tiger on Dec. 19, 2008.BR/BR/November 17, 2008 LA: The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. issued a citation to Sandlin giving him 30 days to find a home for the tiger outside of the state of LA, as he was not in compliance with the 1993 Iberville ban on displaying wild animals. Sandlin was given until Dec. 16, 2008 to find placement.BR/BR/October 22, 2008 LA: The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. wrote Michael Sandlin advising him that his application had been placed on hold based upon their discovery of the 1993 Iberville ban. Part of their new rules (LAC 76: V. 115. H.13) require that the facility be in compliance with all local ordinances.BR/BR/September 1, 2008 LA: Hurricane Gustav plows through LA with 110 MPH winds. See images of the truck stop in the video at to see billboard signs torn down and the roof of the pumps, next to the tiger cage, ripped off the island. It is unknown how much of the unrepaired damage at the Tiger Truck Stop was from Gustav and how much of it was from Katrina, but it is obvious that the tiger cage could just as easily been destroyed.BR/BR/July 20, 2007 LA: The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. wrote Michael Sandlin advising him of the new state rules. They gave him an application to fill out and told him his tiger would be grandfathered in if they issued the permit.BR/BR/July 11, 2007 LA: The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enacted regulations that prohibit private possession of lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, cougars and their hybrids as pets. People who legally had these animals as of August 15, 2006, when a state law requiring regulation of the animals took effect, can keep them but not breed or replace them. They must apply for permits and meet standards for cages, insurance, and microchips. The animals must be kept in safe and sanitary conditions. They cannot be taken from the premises except to receive medical care.BR/BR/July 2, 2007 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to clean cages as often as necessary to maintain adequate sanitation.BR/BR/July 26, 2006 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to maintain structurally sound cages for the tigers.BR/BR/April 25, 2003 LA: A USDA order assessed Tiger Truck Stop a $2,500 fine and limited the facility to possessing or exhibiting no more than two exotic cats because of repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Three were removed from the facility (Rainbow, Toby and Khan) but Tony was left behind.BR/BR/November 12, 2002 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to correct a previously identified noncompliance of not utilizing a sufficient number of adequately trained employees.BR/BR/August 15, 2002 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to correct previously identified noncompliances of not utilizing a sufficient number of adequately trained employees to care for the animals (the only caretaker#39;s hours had been cut and he had not received training as mandated by previous reports) and failure to provide food free of contamination and of sufficient nutritive quality. Tiger Truck Stop was also cited for improper food storage.BR/BR/May 9, 2002 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to correct previous noncompliances of not maintaining structurally sound facilities, which quot;indicate an ongoing lack of maintenance plan,quot; and failure to utilize a sufficient number of adequately trained employees, which was demonstrated by a lack of veterinary care. There was only one employee assigned to care for five large cats in addition to other tasks. Tiger Truck Stop was also cited for failure to provide veterinary care to a female tiger who appeared to have quot;arthritis or some form of posterior paralysisquot; and exhibited quot;severe atrophy of quadriceps muscles,quot; as well as failure to provide food of sufficient nutritive quality and prepared in a manner to prevent contamination.BR/BR/October 9, 2001 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to correct a previously identified violation of mishandling tigers . The inspector wrote, quot;The caretaker informed me [that the two tiger cubs] were removed a week ago for declawing. The first evening at the veterinarian#39;s, the male cub died.quot;BR/BR/Tiger Truck Stop was cited for failure to maintain facilities. The inspector wrote, quot;There has been no progress in repairing and/or repainting metal bars. This total neglect is resulting in rapid deterioration of [the] structural soundness of [the] entire facility and may result in future escapes.quot;BR/BR/The USDA also cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to have a sufficient number of adequately trained employees. The inspector wrote, quot;Over the past several inspections, I have dealt with different employees whose primary function was not animal care. The management of this facility does not seem to place great store [in] or adequately reward caretakers. … Judging by the state of disrepair of the facility, more outside help is required. There is also some question as to the expertise of the employee caring for the cubs, [one of whom] died.quot;BR/BR/August 28, 2001 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to a tiger cub who was thin and underweight. Tiger Travel Plaza was also cited for failure to maintain caging to protect the animal from injury, contain the animal, and protect the animal from public contact and for improper food storage. Michael Sandlin#39;s father, Wendell Sandlin was ordered to give up all of the tigers he kept at his TX truck stop. Seven of them went to a sanctuary in CO sometime after this date.BR/BR/July 24, 2001 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to have a program of veterinary care, for mishandling animals, for failure to maintain cages, and for improper food storage. The inspector wrote, #39;Two 3-week-old cubs [are] being bottle raised in [the] truck stop office. They are loose in [the] manager#39;s office and are being shown to customers. For their own safety and health, these cubs must be moved to a designated area which is in compliance and off limits to customers. They must also be contained to prevent [their] being walked on or otherwise injured. – By virtue of being loose, they have extreme potential of ingesting harmful agents.quot;BR/BR/January 29, 2001 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for unsanitary feeding practices and failure to clean and sanitize a tiger cage made of plywood and carpet that smelled of urine.BR/BR/2000 LA: Tony the tiger was born. Some say at the truck stop to Rainbow, and others say he was not born there. Sandlin says the cat has lived there his entire life, but isn#39;t reported as saying that Tony was born there.BR/BR/November 28, 2000 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to correct previously identified violations of not providing records of veterinary care and mishandling tigers . The inspector wrote, quot;The three young tigers are walked outside on a leash and still used for pictures. The two white tigers [weigh] at least 60 lbs. [each] and should no longer be used in direct public contact.quot;Tiger Travel Plaza was cited for failure to provide minimum space . The inspector wrote, quot;The two white tigers are housed inside in light-gauge chain-link dog runs (approximately 5#39;x5#39;). Tony is tied behind the counter in the store by a dog collar and leash.quot; Tiger Travel Plaza was also cited for failure to provide a veterinarian-approved diet.BR/BR/August 21, 2000 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to have a responsible and knowledgeable attendant present during periods of public contact and failure to provide a safety barrier. The inspector wrote, quot;Baby tigers are housed in [a] cage behind the counter inside the store. – A barrier must be in place to prevent public contact. – The baby tigers are being used for pictures.quot; The inspector also noted that records of veterinary visits must be available for review.BR/BR/August 24, 1999 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to provide veterinary care and failure to provide wholesome and palatable food.BR/BR/August 23, 1999 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for unsanitary feeding practices, failure to clean water receptacles with algae growth, and poor housekeeping.BR/BR/September 23, 1998 Texas: The USDA cited Tiger Travel Plaza for failure to provide drinking water and failure to maintain records of acquisition and disposition.BR/BR/November 5, 1997 LA: The USDA cited Tiger Truck Stop for failure to provide shelter from inclement weather.BR/BR/September 12, 1997 LA: According to The Baton Rouge Advocate, Tiger Truck Stop sold two tiger cubs for $2,500 to a couple passing through on a camping trip. One of the cubs suffered from fluid collection around the joints in her front legs, a condition linked to living on concrete.BR/BR/August 9, 1996 LA: According to The Baton Rouge Advocate, hazardous materials workers from several agencies, wearing protective gear, worked to control a leak of a hazardous and corrosive chemical called formic acid from a box trailer parked at the Tiger Truck Stop.BR/BR/1996 FL: Big Cat Rescue reports that they have received more complaints about the Tiger Truck Stop than all other complaints combined. These became common after they established a web presence in 1996. Big Cat Rescue consistently contacted USDA and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department, as well as the media, but it wasn#39;t until November 2008 that the media really began taking note, thanks in large part to Sky Williamson who has been working on this since Katrina hit in Sept. 2006.BR/BR/December 14, 1993 LA: According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune, Tiger Truck Stop was evacuated for five hours after a tanker truck ruptured, spilling 400 gallons of highly flammable aviation fuel at the truck stop.BR/BR/September 14, 1993 LA: According to The Baton Rouge Advocate, Tiger Truck Stop, another truck stop, and 60 homes were evacuated after a driver reported that his trailer was smoking. The trailer was packed with drums of highly toxic sodium cyanide.BR/BR/1993 LA, Iberville Parish: Sec. 3-91. Display of wild or exotic animals prohibited. No person shall keep or permit to be kept on his premises any wild, exotic, vicious animal or reptile for display or for exhibition purposes whether gratuitously or for a fee. This section shall not apply to zoological parks, performing animal exhibitions, circuses or veterinary clinics. (Ord. of 4-20-93)BR/BR/November 6, 1989: According to the Houston Chronicle, Tiger Truck Stop was raffling off an 11-month-old, 350-pound Bengal tiger named Gloria who was living in a 16#39;x7#39;x7#39; cage attached to a flatbed trailer. The entry forms, which released Tiger Truck Stop from liability, informed potential winners that they could quot;donate [her] to a zoo, sell [her], or give [her] to a friendquot; in the event that the winner did not want to keep the cub.BR/BR/January 1988: Michael Sandlin moves his tigers from the Texas truckstop to the Grosse Tete Truckstop that he had purchased the year before.

  • ladihawk33

    Hello To AllBR/BR/I pray that you have some compassion for one of God#39;s creature. This is a sad story, that the tiger called Tony has to be jailed for the rest of his life, but to see how he suffers if horrific. Please go see for yourself, you have trucks constantly around (always running their engines) where this tiger has no choice but to breath the pollution of the exhaust from cars amp; trucks. Go to the amp; see how they treat God#39;s creatures. The respect all the Cats that live on the property. When I go to Big Cat Rescue, I see all their tigers lying on their back in the sun. You should visit Big Cat Rescue then go back to where Tony the tiger lives and you tell me which place do you think this tiger would like to be. BR/BR/What if you were in a cage with all the fumes around you amp; you couldn#39;t go anywhere, only to except what have been dealt to you. Would you live, sleep amp; eat there 24-7. No I don#39;t think so. Please do the right thing amp; send Tony the tiger to Big Cat Rescue, so he can live the rest of his life in a safe haven. BR/BR/I will be a voice for Tony the tiger, will you. God Bless BR/BR/Cathy MonroeBR/God Bless AmericaBR/Sending Blessing Your Way!BR/

  • Anonymous

    I doubt Tony feels like he is cared for by a “loving owner”.BR/Subjecting a wild animnal to confinement in a concrete floored cage with no enrichment, surrounded by diesel fumes and highway noise is NOT caring stewardship. A sign “please don’t throe rocks at the tiger” would NOT be needed were he safe and sounnd at the truck stop!BR/It’s bad care for the Tiger and he’s a potential danger to the public. BR/If the Sandlin’s cared about Tony (NOT just his ability to earn them $) it would be a no-brainer to see him live out the rest of his life in comfort with proper diet and daily vet and trained keeper attention in a moderate climate. That is what the FL sanctuary has offered and he is fighting against. The USDA would not have a multiple year history of non compliance, lack of sanitation, proper food and vet care and housing if he were in sucgh an ideal circumstance.BR/Let’s do the right thing for a sentient animal.. let Tony live as freely as possible in a natural enclosure with trees, grass and others of his species nearby.BR/We are all God’s creatures and none deserve to suffer this way!BR/MerrillBR/”Saving one animal may not change the world…BR/But surely, for that one animal,BR/Life will change forever…”

  • Pingback: Tony ‘the truck stop tiger’ — calls from the driver community to uncage him | Overdrive - Owner Operators Trucking Magazine strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.