Our travels give us unique opportunities see things with our own eyes and to make our own assessments without the spin that influences our perceptions. Our recent trek from Florida to Colorado took us right by the Louisiana truck stop where Tony the Tiger lives.
You may recall that we wrote about Tony as part of BtC4Animals.com’s Blog the Change in November. This 550-pound tiger is a roadside attraction at a truck stop just off Interstate 10 in Grosse Tete, LA. Last year, signatures were collected to encourage the Iberville Parish Council not to renew the permit giving Tony’s owners an exception from the law prohibiting private ownership of exotic animals. An wild cat sanctuary in Tampa, Florida had volunteered to take Tony, and more than 15,000 people signed the petition, but on February 17th the Council voted 11-1 to allow Tony’s owners to keep him.
The Council didn’t provide the reasoning behind their decision, but a quote by one of the Council members intimated that the success of the business hinged on Tony’s presence. Apparently, the jobs and economic benefits created by the truck stop take priority over the quality of life of this animal.
My overwhelming feeling after visiting Tony was sadness. The truck stop is in an area that obviously faces economic challenges. The business itself did not appear to be riding a wave of prosperity. And, in the 45 minutes we were there, only one car slowed down after filling up to take a peek at Tony.
I’m not saying that his pen was unsatisfactory – it was comparable to ones I’ve seen in small zoos. I’m not a vet, but Tony appeared healthy. And his owners, who say that he is a pet and that they love him, are not likely abusing him … unless you consider keeping him from a more comfortable and enriching life abuse.
The sadness I feel comes from our willingness to confine these animals for our personal financial gain, entertainment, or to stroke our egos – because owning a wild animal is cool.
While we’re putting things on the table, I’m also not a fan of the circus. Hauling animals from place to place so they can perform tricks to entertain families and generate revenue for the owners doesn’t seem like much of a life for them.
Private zoos go in the same boat. In fact, if you’re not a sanctuary, a rescue, or a non-profit organization with a mission to educate, you have no business owning a wild animal in my book. Also, if your resources only allow you to stick these animals in a cage with concrete floors surrounded by bars, close your doors and donate any resources you have to facilities that can provide natural habitat enclosures.
When did we forget how to love? Loving another being means wanting what’s best for them, even if it causes us pain. Do Tony’s owners really think living at this truck stop is the best possible life available to this tiger?
When did we become so conceited? Our attention spans are short and our desire to consume is never ending. Is nothing more important than feeding our insatiable human need to be entertained or to make a buck?
And parents, what message are you sending when you take your children to view these “attractions?” Is looking at a caged animal in person somehow better than watching a program that gives an authentic look at the life they live in the wild on National Geographic?
When will we see the connections? Is it any wonder millions of healthy, loving dogs and cats are killed in shelters each year because they no longer hold our interest, or worse, become inconvenient?
And, how many animals will have to suffer and die until we learn?
What do you think? Should the needs (wants?) of the humans outweigh the animals’ rights to the best living conditions available to them?
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