Legally Brief: ALDF’s Case to Free Tony the Tiger

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on May 22, 2014

Legally Brief

Our campaign to free Tony the Tiger continues. What would it mean to “free” a 14 year-old Siberian-Bengal Tiger named Tony who has spent all his life in a small cage at a Louisiana truck stop? Freeing Tony would mean sending him to a reputable sanctuary, where he can finally have some peace in his lifetime and live like a tiger—rather than as a truck stop gimmick in a concrete prison pacing back and forth continuously, surrounded by noise and diesel truck exhaust. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has spent years in court fighting for Tony’s freedom. And we won—our victory was upheld by the Louisiana Court of Appeal, and the Louisiana State Supreme Court refused to revisit that decision. But Tony’s owner, having lost repeatedly in court, while continuing to display Tony illegally, has tried to sneak a bill, “SB 250,” through the Louisiana legislature that would allow him to skirt the law.

That’s why the Animal Legal Defense Fund works to protect animals by covering all the bases within the legal system. We work with legislatures to ensure laws reflect what’s best for animals. We work with law enforcement to ensure that these laws are actually enforced. And—in addition to our highly successful animal law education initiatives, with hundreds of student ALDF chapters in the top law schools in the land—when individuals violate the law, like Tony’s owner, we file suit and take them to court.

The Louisiana legislature is now considering “SB 250,” which, if passed, could essentially undo every victory ALDF has achieved for Tony and relegate him to a life living in a truck stop parking lot. The bill aims to “exempt certain persons from the requirements of the big exotic cats rules.” Exempting “certain persons” (meaning Tony’s owner) would not only remove Tony’s legal protections, but it would allow an individual like Tony’s owner to undermine the judicial process. Aside from keeping Tony imprisoned, passing such a bill would send the dangerous message that if you don’t like a law, you can just hire some lobbyists to try to rewrite it—in this case Louisiana’s ban on private ownership of tigers and other exotic cats. As that law’s sponsor, representative Warren Triche, notes, it was written specifically to prevent tragic situations like Tony’s. For this tiger, and for all animals, we must make it clear that playing fast and loose with the law is unacceptable, no matter how deep your pockets or how tight your political connections.


This frustrating saga shows how hard it is for animal advocates to protect animals. But long as we work together to unite all aspects of the legal system, from criminal justice to innovative litigation and legislative affairs, we will win the case against animal cruelty. It’s important that everyone stands up for animals and does their part.

Here at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, we have a strong connection to Tony’s plight, and our hearts break at the possibility that he may never get his freedom. And if this kind of sneaky, back-door affront to our legal system is allowed to continue, many other tigers may face the same fate.

Tony urgently needs your help—please take action for Tony today, and read more about his story here.

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13 thoughts on “Legally Brief: ALDF’s Case to Free Tony the Tiger

  1. Karen says:

    Let him go. Let him be free. If you love him it’s time to say good-bye

  2. Arlene Madden says:

    This has gone on long enough, something MUST be done…now. This animal deserves his freedom before it is too late for him.

  3. jes says:

    I am confused…. state law is in violation, no permit is issued…. upheld by 2 seperate judges…. why haven’t they gone and taken Tony by warrant/force? He IS violating STATE laws, correct? I have seen dogs/horses taken for lesser things than this poor creature has suffered. Why are they allowing this man to blatantly flaunt his disregard of the law? Perhaps laws are different in states but surely enforcment is the same.

  4. Dee DeSantis says:

    THANK YOU Animal Legal Defense Fund for your dedication to Tony. We will continue to support you and Tony as you work toward his safe release to a reputable sanctuary where he will have the home, care and respect he deserves. Tony has been exploited for nearly 14 years at the truck stop. Tigers are not gimmicks, attractions, props or pets. They are magnificent, dangerous big cats who deserve our respect and protection. Tony should be given the opportunity to retire to a peaceful, healthy, natural environment. GFAS accredited big cat sanctuaries stand ready to provide him such a life; one such sanctuary can provide a habitat of 8,000 sq ft or more, all natural substrate, perches, hammock, pool, toys/enrichment and access to an indoor temperature controlled building. Keepers have 4 year zoology degrees and a vet hospital on-site. Impressive compared to Tony’s prison-like enclosure at the truck stop. Another sanctuary recently debuted a 2.5 acre habitat for their cats to “vacation in” with platforms, dens, trees, foliage, a pond and enrichment toys. No animal should be exploited as a roadside attraction at a truck stop.

    1. Karen Christopherson says:

      Agree. Wildcat sanctuary in mn has offered to take tony and the big cats there have excellent care the best vet access and enrichment. The best part is he would be OFF display and live in peace. I am praying for Tony

  5. Amanda M. says:

    I did write about a month ago asking that the LA Senate vote no on SB 250 and got one reply from a Senator who agreed with me. The vote was incredibly close – off one vote, so apparently they decided to keep voting on it until the got the decision they wanted. The LA Senate appears to be at least partially for sale, if you are a LA resident with enough money you can get them to write laws to specifically exempt you – how nice for that one special individual(!)
    ALDF you have worked so hard to help Tony! ALDF – your help is immeasurably appreciated. I ask you to please not give up. Regardless of what the LA House votes – please – do NOT GIVE UP. Tony’s situation and the latest news has depressed me beyond words. But – are we ready to roll over and give up? No. At least I dont feel that way. I would challenge the law as being preferential and so unconstitutional. While we do give preferential treatment to corporations, letting them steamroll over local laws, this isn’t usually the case for individuals, is it? But this is why ALDF is so valuable, as laymen(and women) we need legal counsel on our options. This is one case of a wild big cat being privately contained, yet the public sentiment is against broadening the scope of these occurrences. We have seen much tragedy associated with private captivity, including human death and mauling. So courts should take this very seriously. Free Tony to an accredited sanctuary. Stop the nonsense.

  6. valda purvis says:

    This feasco has gone on for too long and will continue to do so as Mr.michael Sandlin and his ego -is getting what -he – wants free publicity for his truck shop -it brings in business -doesn’t matter about Tony- lonely and suffering from fumes and noise-if he loves Tony as he says he would have been gone from there 3 years ago-exotic anomals do not belong in backyard sheds and cement cages -free him let him have a few years as a normal Tiger in a nice sanctuary as prommised.

  7. Tom Imke says:

    Couldn’t read past the first paragraph because it was clear that you had not been there. This is where Tony lives, not on concrete in noise and diesel fumes.

    1. amandam says:

      Tom Imke,
      If you can trouble yourself, try to imagine yourself confined to a small cage, lets make it proportional to the amount of space Tony has and a similar amount a human comfortably needs, so that would be an 8′ X 12′ cage with an 8′ ceiling. Now imagine that you will never see or hear your kind again. That’s right, no glimpse of your own kind – ever – again. You might as well be on Mars. A kindly jailer brings you meat occasionally so be happy and quit whining. Tony is not safe and well – he is a prisoner and has committed no crime. If it were Tom Imke being sentenced to life with no contact ever again with his own species then it would be called ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. Get real, your fantasy of what a wild animal should like and should be content with is a reflection of your own inability to empathize.
      Countless people have visited the truckstop where the tiger is held. We have seen countless video of him there and the surroundings. Most of us have seen enough to sicken us for the rest of our lives. You and Sandlin will answer to God for your heartlessness. Just remember that Sandlin’s previous tendency to just let tigers in his possession mysteriously die (Gee Officer, I dunno what happened) wont be tolerated. Count on it, you and your ilk will be watched from here on out. Cruelty will be reported – count on it.

      1. Lucy Peixoto says:

        God you are so right. I have called, emailed,
        Facebooked and left several messages to Vote No on SB 250 and everyone knows this is corruption of Louisiana’s Legislative System at irs worst. And since the courts refused the Permit, why is Thus Tiger still there? There us something stagerringly wrong, twisred and warped about this case, and its sickening that the State’s Legislature is trying to do this the Fury snd the Backlash is enormous set this Tiger free- and VETO SB250- And restore Louisiana State Legislature back to Normalcy again

    1. Lucy Peixoto says:

      Linda, irs obvious you are practicing an eyes wide shut policy turning a blind eye to the real truth and the Facts and the Evidence -God’s Truth- The Moral and Ethical Truth, and the Law of the Land- That Michael Sandlin has illegally abused and exploited Tigers and has wrongfully imprisoned them in a concrete cage with stinky Gasoline Fumes,to breathe, Being taunted by by strangers who are told “not to throw Rocks at Tony” , and being held in Isolation with no conract with ither Tigers…For Fourteen Excruciating long years. Why dont you Linda Sue, Give your Freedom away to Mihael Sandlin, Let him Lock you in a cage, where you are all by yourself, with no conract with your own kind, where you never see your famil or your friends again, where all you can do, is pace back and forth relentlessly…say in and day out, and Sandlin gives you a cheap meal each day…and pays a Doctor to come in and check up on you from time to time…just to make sure your alive enough so that you are presentable to the people….do it Linda. You wouldn’t last a day.

  8. Allison says:

    I can’t imagine being confined like this. I would go crazy, not being able to move freely. Good luck Tony!

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