The owner who decided to euthanize Tony, the Bengal tiger that spent the 17 years of its life as the roadside attraction for a Grosse Tete truck stop, says he intends to create a memorial for the animal and will seek through the courts to overturn a state law that blocks him from getting another tiger.
Owner Michael Sandlin's plan to have a taxidermist stuff Tony so he can be displayed at the Tiger Truck Stop restaurant along with another tiger that died previously was blasted on Tuesday by animal welfare advocates. They also vowed to fight vigorously in court any effort by him to bring in another live tiger to display at his business.
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"From our perspective, stuffing Tony and putting him up in the truck stop is disrespectful," said Matthew Liebman, a spokesman for The Animal Legal Defense Fund. "It shows he's continuing to use Tony, even in death, as a promotional prop. It really suggests he sees Tony as just a money maker."
Sandlin called his decision to end the life of Tony "draining and emotional." The health of the 550-pound tiger, which was put to sleep around 7:30 p.m. Monday, took a sharp decline recently due to kidney failure.
The tiger had stopped eating, taking medication and it had become painful for it to move around in the last few days before his life was ended due to the cat's prolonged struggle with arthritis, Sandlin said.
"We were hoping he would rebound, but he didn't," Sandlin said Tuesday morning. "He was an old man. You wish they could live forever, but of course, I wouldn't want him to suffer."
Tony, the tiger housed for 17 years as a roadside attraction at the Tiger Truck Stop in the …
In a news release announcing Tony's death Monday, a spokesman for the truck stop said Tony had lived at the Iberville Parish business since January 2001, when he was just 6 months old.
A veterinarian with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine said previously Tony was old for tiger, which typically lives 14 to 18 years in captivity.
Sandlin said local residents, friends and family members gathered outside Tony's cage on Monday to hold hands, pray and memorialize him with photos and candles.
"We just thanked Tony for the 17 years he has been a blessing to us," Sandlin said.
Sandlin said that's why he feels it's important to immortalize the animal by stuffing him and having him mounted next to Selene, another Bengal tiger Sandlin owned and was Tony's mate. She died at 3 1/2 years of age from pancreatic cancer, Sandlin said.
Selene's remains had been mounted in the truck stop restaurant ever since.
"We might build a monument for him, too," he said. "We're hoping to do an expansion and there may be room for a tiger museum or something."
Tony's presence at the truck stop has been a controversial topic for the past decade involving numerous court cases and protests by animal rights groups attempting to have him removed from the business because they felt he wasn't receiving adequate care.
At the forefront of the fight was the ALDF, a California-based advocacy group that was fighting to free Tony for the past six years.
"The vets we talked to say a truck stop is no place for a tiger," Liebman said. "The kinds of chemicals and fumes he was exposed to could have compromised his longevity."
A 2006 state law now bans anyone other than colleges, sanctuaries, zoos, wildlife research centers and scientific organizations from possessing big exotic cats.
But because Tony was living at the truck stop several years before the ban went into effect, Senate Bill 250 of the 2014 legislative session, which became Act 697 when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed it into law, allowed Sandlin to keep only Tony.
Sandlin then sued the state for discrimination, saying he wants the option of buying a successor to Tony when he passes.
"I still have a lawsuit pending against the state for discrimination," he said Tuesday. "I'm probably going to file an emergency writ to asking the court to allow me to bring in another cat until the court makes a ruling."
Liebman says the ALDF will do everything to make sure that never happens.
"He will never have another tiger there as long as we have anything to say about it," he said. "And if he tries, we'll see him in court."