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Todd Dills | February 01, 2011

Bengal Welfare

Drivers join animal-rights activists in call for relocating the ‘truckstop tiger’


Two years have passed since I first wrote about efforts of animal-rights activists to force Gross Tete, La., Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin to relocate the caged Bengal-Siberian tiger on the site of stop.

Truckers News Senior Editor Todd Dills is the author of a novel, Sons of the Rapture, and blogs daily at www.overdriveonline.com/channel19. Write him at tdills@rrpub.com or http://twitter.com/channel19todd.

Tony, as the tiger is known, has been on display there for 10 years as an attraction to curiosity seekers, and several predecessor tigers have made the stop a sort of institution along I-10.

Those previous efforts, aimed at forcing local and state governments to enforce an existing law that, activists argued, made the stop’s display of the tiger illegal, failed in March that year. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries issued the Tiger Truck Stop a temporary permit for Tony’s display, and said permit was renewed nearly two years later after an unannounced visit by an LDWF inspector found conditions satisfactory in December last year.

Leading into the moment of the original permit’s expiration in December, a renewed effort by activists was launched, with a petition filed with LDWF by the Animal Legal Defense Fund that argued not just for Tony’s removal on the grounds of general conditions but that the permits being issued had no legal underpinning. This time around, joining the public call for Tony to be uncaged was a set of folks among your fellow drivers.

Notably, Allen Smith, a fuel hauler and proprietor of Askthe­Trucker.com with his wife, Donna, had been writing about the dispute over the tiger for a long time himself, but he hadn’t seen the tiger in about six years when he and Donna revisited Tony back in October.

They posted a video subsequently that showed what they felt was an animal in distress, pacing around a fairly small caged area, eating grass from the enclosure. What’s more, Smith has in the past praised the Tiger Truck Stop for other things, like its down-home food and service, perhaps uncommon among stops of late. But after CNN asked for footage from his visit and then ran a story Smith felt unfairly portrayed the condition of the tiger, running an older video, in a November post at AsktheTrucker.com he called tiger owner Sandlin’s own statements about Tony’s health “totally false.”

Smith went on to say that, in the CNN report, “Sandlin states that Tony is a ‘beautiful, healthy’ tiger and is ‘not isolated.’ When asked about the ‘Do Not Throw Rocks’ sign on the outside of the cage, Sandlin counters that the only people throwing objects at Tony are the animal rights activists and refers to them as ‘domestic terrorists.’ He also states that Tony is ‘very well taken care of’” (italics Smith’s).

Smith called for truckers to boycott the stop: “There is something seriously wrong in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. Truckers should boycott the Tiger Truck Stop until this real issue is solved.”

Though it remains to be seen what will happen next, as both the truckstop and the activists seem determined to dig in their heels over the issue, money talks louder than words in most cases, as Smith’s call for a boycott acknowledges. Other drivers joined him in expressing the sentiment. Note the volume of comments to my blog post (http://www.bit.ly/dXSuiA) on the subject Dec. 6. Though not all the comments were in favor of removing Tony, and most weren’t from drivers, a solid majority were no doubt energetically behind the notion of relocation to a more humane living arrangement for the animal.


POSTED

Helpful apps: On the heels of the Department of Transportation’s proposed rule to ban handheld cell phone use by commercial drivers, I’ve been hearing from haulers who object to being singled out on the issue.

Given the predominance of texting and talking four-wheelers on the highways today, most would prefer any ban to be on all drivers using handhelds, regardless of race, sex, creed or, well, job. “That’s why they make a headset for these things” — as it was put to me in December. Take heart, at least, that truckers aren’t the only ones who realize the extent of the problem beyond the big-rig realm.

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