Channel 19

Todd Dills

Tony ‘the truck stop tiger’ — calls from the driver community to uncage him

| December 06, 2010

Nearly two years have passed since I first wrote about efforts by animal-rights activists (post from January 2009 originally on old Channel 19 blog home on to require Gross Tete, La., Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin to relocate the caged Bengal-Siberian tiger on the site of stop. It’s been there as an attraction to curiosity seekers for years, and several predecessor tigers have made the stop a sort of institution along I-10 in the state.

Since previous efforts failed (post from March 2009) to force local and state governments to enforce an existing law that, activists argued, made the stop’s display of the tiger illegal has led to a renewed effort this year, as the special permit eventually issued to the truckstop is set to expire at the end of the year.

What makes the renewed effort interesting is that some drivers have publicly joined in the call for moving the big cat. Notable among them is Allen Smith, whom regular readers of the blog will be familiar with as the proprietor with his wife, Donna, at the site and host of the Truth About Trucking online radio show. Smith has 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 his cage, 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 that Smith felt unfairly portrayed the condition of the tiger, running an older video of the tiger, he called tiger owner Sandlin’s statements “totally false” in this November report from 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 ends the story with a call for a boycott of the stop: “There is something seriously wrong in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. Truckers should boycott the Tiger Truck Stop until this real issue is solved.”

Others appear to be joining him. Note the plethora of comments to Overdrive‘s latest story on the Tiger Truck Stop. The last one, as of this writing, calls for the same. “Tony needs to moved away from that truckstop. I lived in truckstops for 10 years and hardly think that a truckstop enviroment is suitable for any animal” full-time, one commenter wrote. “BOYCOTT THE TIGER TRUCKSTOP UNTIL TONY IS FREE!!!!”

  • Everitt Mickey

    This is just stupid.

    Tony will never be free. He was raised in captivity and has no clue as to how to take care of himself in the wild. And what wild are you going to let him loose in? Central Park? Yosemete?

    If they keep messing with the truckstop they’re going to kill tony.

  • Dee DeSantis

    It has never been suggested that Tony be released “in the wild” – that is a total impossibility. The objective of Tony’s supporters is to see him released to an accredited big cat sanctuary that can provide him a permanent home with professional care, a natural habitat, medical care, a proper diet, enrichment and the respect he deserves. A truck stop is a totally unhealthy and unsuitable environment for a tiger or any animal, as well as it being a threat to public safety. People around the world have come to learn of Tony and support his relocation to a sanctuary. Over 13,000 have signed his petition on, and a petition just started on Dec 1, 2010 by the WSPA has over 32,000 signatures already. Tony’s story was featured on Issues With Jane Velez Mitchell, and major organizations such as Big Cat Rescue of Tampa FL and The Animal Legal Defense Fund support Tony’s relocation as well. Tony is one of thousands of tigers in the United States exploited and abused.. There are more privately owned tigers in the United States then tigers remaining in the wild. Tigers are not gimmicks, props or attractions. They are magnificent cats who deserve our protection and respect – and it is the hope of Tony’s supporters that he will know a life of peace, care and dignity. The LDWF’s priorities must be Tony’s health, welfare and quality of life and not the special interests of Tony’s “owner.”

  • Kat R.

    How about in the accredited sanctuary that is already waiting to take him him?

  • Regina Bennett

    Tony needs to be in a natural setting. A truck stop is not an appropriate place for him. A Big Cat Rescue would be suitable. They should not be kept or used for human entertainment. They are becoming extinct and deserve more protection. They are beautiful beings being run out of their natural habitats and being killed off by poachers. Tony needs a better quality of life and health for the remaining years of his life.

  • Valeria Baker

    My parents stopped by to see Tony in November and took some photos of him for me. They didn’t spend a penny at the truck stop per my request. There were two boys throwing rocks at Tony and my mother told them to stop, since they were without parental supervision at the time. I guess that they are also part of Michael Sandlin’s “domestic terrorists”???

    I beg all truck drivers to boycott this truck stop until Tony is removed and given a more healthy and interactive home at an animal sanctuary. And no, we do not mean setting him lose at Central Park. There are several animal sanctuaries in the USA that specialize in big cats, where they have grass, trees, and pools of water to swim in. They may not be able to be returned to the wild, but at least they are given a more natural home than a truck stop parking lot.

  • Diana

    I agree with Valeria, We went by and it was a sad sight for the poor Tiger. I hope truckers and people that stop by boycott this as the petitions do not seem to be doing anything. :[


    It is Obvious to me that the Owner has One or More Government Department Heads in His Back Pocket. He is Paying People Off or Blowing Them, or Both. Dirty Back Room Deals Are Disgusting. This Owner is Clearly Not In Compliance with the Law and the Only Thing these Corrupt Louisiana Politicians are Interested In is Lining their Own Pockets with Illegal Profits. Greed Trumps Right, Everytime.

  • Jan Pedersen

    This truckstop has become a world wide synonym with animal cruelity, and Mr Sandlin as one big animal abuser. Since he will not listen to sommon sense, there only one thing to do – don’t spend your money here. Drive by!

  • Em Tee

    The truckers I know value freedom above almost everything, and while it’s great to be on the road, it’s also great to get back to a warm, comfortable home. They wouldn’t want to live in a cage at a 24-hour truck stop — why would anyone think that Tony would?

  • eliza howard

    Thank you to all the great truckers that are on board to help Tony!!
    You know best how awful a truck stop is !!

  • Martin Groseclose

    The place is a crap whole only stopped there once back in 2001 never been back. Have no plans to ever stop there again. Tony? Those people should be ashamed. I was shocked by the conditions at that time on how they could keep an animal like that.

  • DebraDietrich

    Coming from a long haul driver herself, Where else do you see wild animals caged? Nowhere else does a truckstop blatently display animal abuse! BOYCOTT THE TIGER TRUCKSTOP UNTIL MICHAEL SANDLIN FREES TONY!!!!!

  • Thorsten Kassebeer

    Yes boycott the Truck Stop! There are a lot of better ways to make a good business with a Truck Stop like cageing a tiger there!!! When the Truckers called your Truck Stop the best in the state because you have the best service the best meals … and when they feel like at home by you, and can forget their hard job if they stay at your place, then you can be proud of your Truck Stop, but not by treating a tiger so bad, this is a shame …

    Thorsten Kassebeer

  • Martha Skinner

    Please read the following letter from my 10 year old granddaughter to the Governor. It puts it all into perspective:

    Dear Governor:

    I am just a ten year old kid, but I take typing/computer in school so I am typing this letter to you, not my mother. She is helping me with some of the spelling and punctuation though.

    I am writing to you about the tiger at the truck stop in your state. I saw the last video and he looks like he is very sad and sick. Why are you letting this tiger live like this instead of sending him to a nice place with other tigers, toys, grass and a pond?

    My mom said you were going to do good things for your state, maybe you can start by helping this tiger Tony. I cried when I saw the last video and don’t want him to suffer.

    Do you know tigers walking on cement all the time can be very bad for them and hurt their paws? He is breathing gas fumes from trucks. The smell of gas makes me sick, so it must be awfully bad for the tiger all the time. I like my room dark at night and I think animals like it dark too, but this tiger has a light on him all the time. I don’t think he can
    sleep that way. He looks lonely without another tiger to play with or roar with..

    If you like animals, please would you ask the people in his town why they are letting this tiger stay at the truck stop. I don’t think the man who owns him is very kind because if he was a good person, he would send him to a happy tiger park of some kind.

    Please find out why they are keeping Tony and do something about it very soon so he doesn’t suffer.

    Thank you.

    Macy Harmon

    If a ten year old can see the pain this animal is going thru – why can’t others? Possibly money is clouding their thinking – money under the table that is. How shameful that it will buy a prison for this magnificent animal. Good Old Boy Network very much alive spite the Governor pledging to clean up the state.

  • Karen Deakins

    Thank you, truckers for your support in the fight for Tony’s freedom from Sandlin’s exploitation and negligence. As Martin Grossclose says: THOSE PEOPLE SHOULD BE ASHAMED.

  • KH

    Everitt Mickey decided to comment without knowing the facts. No one is trying to release Tony into a wild environment.

    At an accredited sanctuary, like Big Cat Rescue, Tony would get the highest quality care (something he has never experienced), and live his life in peace. He would be able to roam in open spaces, and swim in ponds. He would have a real life, instead of living as a prop on display. He wouldn’t have to breathe in gasoline fumes twenty four hours a day, or tolerate the constant noise of the truck stop.

    There is a reason that Sandlin’s other tigers were confiscated.

    That man has violated the Animal Welfare Act on many, many occasions. The USDA has cited him repeatedly for failing to provide his tigers with water, food free of contaminants, shelter from the elements, and vet care. One of the tigers that was removed in 2003 had posterior paralysis, and had been dragging herself around the cage for a year without veterinary care. Selena was only four when she mysteriously disappeared, and then reappeared stuffed above the salad bar.

    Tony is ten years old, and he has spent those years in a steel and concrete prison. He could have five to ten good years left. Why not allow him to live those years in a better place? Why not give him the chance to experience a better quality of life? Michael Sandlin has been allowed to neglect and abuse endangered animals for far too long.

    I want to thank every trucker who is boycotting this truck stop. You are heroes to this poor animal, and if he is indeed moved to a new home, he will have you to thank for it. God bless you.

  • Dawn Flann

    @EVERITT MICKEY! Just so you know I recorded your post, if something like that ever happens to Tony!!
    Thank you to all you Wonderful Truckers for joining this Fight for Tony. If the LDWF are going to continue to turn their backs on the broken laws committed by this man, then lets stop giving him business! This man has been allowed to abuse this Tiger for Ten years and it has to be stopped. Attached is a petition filed by the ALDF for Tony the Tiger.

  • Marlane Barker

    You are missing the point. Right he was brought up in captivity,but the facility he resides in is deplorable. Do you think breathing diesel fumes 24/7, highway noise 24/7 and concrete and bars are fit for any living thing, especially an endangered exotic animal? There are sactuaries specifically outfitted for this type of thing where he can live out his life among other tigers and endangered cats in a suitable environment. Sandlin has no respect or feelings for this tiger, its his cash cow,plain and simple. Let tony be allowed to live out the rest of his life as he deserves with others of his kind instead of in a truck stop.

  • amy cohen

    @everitt Mickey, with people like you, how will tony ever get free. he needs hope..he needs to be in accredited really think living in a concrete cage with diesel and gas fumes 24 hours a day 7 days a week is better for him..can you even imagine what his lungs must be about the muscles and his bones being on concrete for 10 years..tigers are not meant to be on one is saying to release him into the wild. we are saying to release him to an accredited sanctuary where he will get the proper diet, vet care, pool, stimulation that he needs. tony looks horrible..he is not a happy tiger..i would like to see you live in a cage like this for 10 years, then tell us how you feel..imagine what tony feels..wake up everitt..

  • Pingback: Roaring For Tony: Recent Posts On Teddy Hilton, OverdriveOnline, Care2 « Free Tony The Tiger

  • Chuck Guintard

    I wish the group from Florida would just Leave Tony and the truck stop alone .I have been stopping there for over 30 years, That Tiger is very well cared for, i stop there even more now that all this crap has been brought up,
    I guess next they will want to remove MIKE the tiger at LSU!
    Next these tree hugging ,left wing wacko’s will want your cats,dogs,horses,fish,etc,

  • Dawn Flann

    Hey Chuck….If Tony is your Idea of an Animal well “cared for”…I pray to god you do not have any pets of your own…

  • Dawn Flann

    ….and one more thing “chucky”….we are not from Florida….We who Fight for the Freedom of this Neglected Tiger, come from World Wide Bucko! I am from Canada actually, and what your state ( I assume you are from Louisianna, if not a friend of Sandlin’s)…but what your state and it’s infamous Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries has allowed to go on for this long..Blows my freaking mind!!!!!

  • Karen Deakins

    Mr. Everitt,
    No one suggested releasing this animal to the “wild.” He must go to an accreditated sanctuary. After a decade, it is time for this animal to be retired and to be able to live his live in a natural habitat, not in cage situated by diesel pumps and and interstate nearby.

  • Karen Deakins

    I am not from Florida, but I am Southerner and Louisiana has embarrassed me as a Southerner with allowing this to go on for a decade. The Dept. itself says prolonged confinement is detrimental to the animal. The story of Tony has gone global in the last few months and it paints an ugly picture of Louisiana. No, I think Mike the LSU mascot has good treatment. At least we know Mike is not subjected to harmful fumes 24/7 and substandard care. Tony is NOT treated well. I am not a left-wing tree hugger…I just happen to have respect and compassion for all God’s creatures. Perhaps you should take your blinders off and learn a little compassion yourself.

  • Thorsten Kassebeer

    Chuck, please think about this, is there not a difference between dogs cats horses … and a tiger? Please remember that there are only 3200 are left from them into the wilderness, 1900 were this more than 100.000!!! 100 years of catching and killing and now we have only 3200 … Please think about this and take action for Tony, he and his species needs help … and your voice for him can help him and his species …
    Thorsten Kassebeer

  • Pingback: For Tony: Recap Of This Past Week & Reminders « Free Tony The Tiger

  • Pingback: Momma Donna | Skydiving to the ark: A Channel 19 2010 ‘Year in Review’

  • Molly M

    He would be relocated to an accredited animal rescue/sanctuary, likely Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FL. No one fighting for Tony that knows better would ever think of releasing an animal into the wild that has been raised in captivity it’s whole life, and especially not in a non-native country for a tiger. Big Cat Rescue would provide him with grass, trees, perches, hide-outs, activity items such as large balls & other toys that keep a big cat active & playing and, most importantly, fresh air, clean conditions, safety from flying objects and a constant nutritious diet tailored for a tiger plus treats once in a while (e.g. whole turkeys are distributed at Thanksgiving for each big cat to stalk, play with and devour to their heart’s content).

  • Martha Hoffman Skinner

    @Chuck – for your info buddy, I am not a left wing whakco = but a strong Republican Conservative .. so don’t label people!!! We have stopped to see the tiger and it is truly a sad sight. If he was in a sanctuary (sanctuary means a refuge not a show spot like a gas station) his life would be considerably better. Also Chuck the majority of people commenting are not from Florida, but as far as Canada, Germany, Australia, all over the states. So best you educate yourself before labeling people.

  • JT

    It’s not the wild, it’s a safe refuge with other tigers. Honestly, think before writing.

  • JT

    Thank you to all good-hearted truckers willing to stand up for this poor animal. You are the salt of the earth.

  • Martha Hoffman Skinner

    In addition to my comment above, how can anyone with half a brain compare the life of a tiger caged at a truck stop with that of a tiger living in a sanctuary housed in a natural habitat with other tigers. He is kept at the truck stop for one reason and one reason only, MONEY! At a sanctuary, he would have enrichment objects, compaionship of other animals, trees to climb, a pond to swim in, etc etc. At the truck stop he has nothing but people glaring at him, gas fumes, no enrichment – just a solitary life stuck in a den of cinder blocks, a small grassy area, no trees etc … A horrible existence for a tiger. Wake up Chuck and just use common sense and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

  • Pingback: Rhetoric on Tony the Truckstop Tiger boils over into truckstop villification | Overdrive - Owner Operators Trucking Magazine

  • Pingback: Rhetoric on Tony the Truckstop Tiger boils over into truckstop villification | Momma Donna

  • Pingback: Tony the Truck Stop Tiger: Legal limbo « ™FREE TONY THE TIGER CAMPAIGN

  • Elizabeth Lanson

    I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT THIS POOR TIGER IS IMPRISONED. PLEASE PUT IN ANOTHER PLEA FOR “ALL TRUCKERS AND ANY POTENTIAL VISITORS TO THE TIGER TRUCK STOP, TO BOYCOTT THE TRUCK STOP”. Once Mr. Sandin loses all the attention he gets and money he makes off of displaying this pitiful creature, will he maybe, possibly relinquish his tight, cruel hold on Tony

  • tedbaldwin

    the ignorance about this tiger is apalling. Go to and watch the video to see how animal rights activists have been deceiving you about the tiger’s home.

  • tedbaldwin

    tony has one
    -on-one veterinary care, top quality food, a very large grassy area, and the exhibit is only wet when it rains or after its daily cleaning. Water does not collect and stand in the cage, and the cage is open all day into the 1600 square foot grassy area with toys abd a new pool and deck. He is supported by the business at the truck stop – guaranteed income. sanctuaries rely on donations and can’t afford everything Tony is getting now.

  • tedbaldwin

    how would you like to be torn away from the only family you have ever known and “rescued” into an anonymous sanctuary – competing with 150 other tigers for food and care? You all are feeling so sad for this tiger and the truth is you are just swept up in the lies about the situation. People are using this tiger to generate moeny for their “rescue” efforts. They even have taken money getting a place ready to take him – when he will not be going there no matter what. That is fraud, and you are being scammed. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.