BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A measure that would allow a gas station owner to keep a tiger at his business is nearing final legislative passage after getting approval from a Louisiana House committee Wednesday.
The House Natural Resources Committee voted 10-6 to approve the proposal by Port Allen Sen. Rick Ward, a Republican who said he grew up seeing tigers at the gas station in Grosse Tete.
The bill would allow Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop, to keep a 14-year-old Bengal tiger named Tony on site despite court rulings against him. He has previously lost a lawsuit and has another one pending that challenges the law prohibiting big cat ownership.
Louisiana passed a law in 2006 that bars people from owning big cats, but makes an exception for those who can "prove previous ownership," along with universities and zoos. The bill would amend the law to say that people who lawfully obtained a big cat and possessed it since 2006 are included in exemptions.
Animal rights groups say keeping Tony at a gas station threatens public safety and the tiger's well-being.
Representatives from the Animal Legal Defense Fund said Sandlin got several citations for failure to provide Tony with basic needs. They also argued that making an exception to the law would override the court system and lead to more challenges from big cat owners.
"I think it's fair to let the courts do their job," said Carter Dillard, director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Sandlin, who described himself as a "tiger conservationist," said Tony is happy and moving him would endanger his life.