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Tiger At Grosse Tete Truck Stop In Louisiana Fought Over By Animal Rights Group

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NEW ORLEANS -- An animal rights group filed suit Thursday against Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, seeking to have a tiger long displayed at a Grosse Tete truck stop sent to a wildlife sanctuary.

The suit by the Animal Legal Defense Fund said the department has refused to confiscate the animal from Tiger Truck Stop Inc. and the truck stop's owner, Michael Sandlin, and urged a judge to order local law enforcement agents to take that step.

The lawsuit filed in state District Court in Baton Rouge is the latest by the group involving a Siberian-Bengal tiger mix named Tony, a popular attraction for motorists traveling Interstate 10 near Baton Rouge.

State District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled in November that the truck stop's permit was invalid because state law lets only individuals own big cats. He ordered the department to revoke the permit.

"The permit has expired, because the state was ordered by the court not to renew it. He (Sandlin) is now exhibiting the tiger without a permit," Lisa Franzetta, spokeswoman for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said Thursday.

The judge hearing Sandlin's separate challenge to Louisiana's big cat regulations has handed down a temporary order against moving the tiger, said Bo Boehringer, spokesman for the department. He said he could not comment on the suit filed Thursday because the department has not seen it.

Stephen LeBlanc, who represents Sandlin in the case that was before Caldwell, said he is not representing Sandlin's claim that the regulations are unconstitutional. He said he has asked the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to overturn Caldwell's order, and the department agreed not to enforce it in the meantime.

The judge refused to suspend his order during the appeal, LeBlanc said, but did order Wildlife and Fisheries to pay all court costs, including Sandlin's. He said the department agreed to hold off enforcement in exchange for Sandlin's offer to waive court costs.

Tony's 3,200-square-foot cage is eight times the size of one that held Louisiana State University's Mike the Tiger mascot from 1936 to 1981, LeBlanc said.

Sandlin has had seven other tigers over 22 years at the truck stop off I-10, about 30 miles west of Baton Rouge.

"My client has a better record of no escapes than LSU. Because Mike the Tiger has been let out," LeBlanc said.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, in a separate filing Thursday, asked to become part of Sandlin's lawsuit against the state.

Sandlin did not answer a request for comment, but his website is vehement.

"Animal activists from out of state are trying to send our hand-raised, never in the wild, family member to a wild game preserve somewhere," it says.

"They claim he is endangered here," it continues, "BUT HE WILL BE THERE!!! Thousands are spent on Tony every month at the Tiger truck Stop – The non-profit shelters cannot afford to give tony the quality of food and care he receives now."

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