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Visiting Tony the Tiger

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.

Tony the Tiger

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.

Tony's Enclosure

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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  • MyKinKStar says:

    Cats like the darkness, BUT Tony has never been in the dark. The lights overhead and traffic coming/going all hours, keeps this boy from ever having seen the stars in the night sky. Tigers enjoy being social with each other, swimming and playing, much like house cats, BUT Tony has never seen anyone like himself; never been able to play; and swim in anything larger than a bathtub. No bushes, no trees, no peace and quite, what a hell of a way to live!

    Yes, Tony has missed a whole lot of life in almost 11 years stuck in a small cage at a smelly truck stop, without any enrichment and people throwing trash or rocks at him. With the power that is The People, we will hope for a change before it’s too late. Let us pray, Tony will have the strength to carry on, and will stay safe until he is finally removed and taken to a proper sanctuary where he can live in a natural habitat with others like himself. Then Tony will be home for the first time in his life.

  • Lori R. says:

    Your experience with Tony reminds me of my encounter with Lisa the Baby Elephant in Michigan in 1994. Like Tony, she was at some roadside stop. Unlike Tony, she was still only half-grown and still baby-cute. Naturally, everyone stopped to look and wanted to take pictures, and her owner/trainer kept yelling at everyone to keep back, they were bothering his elephant. Yet he was clearly displaying her to the general public! It was very bizarre and I left feeling slightly sick.

    I also attended a “tiger-training” demonstration at the Bronx Zoo, where they condition the tigers to accept limited human contact in order to allow veterinary services. The trainers made it ABUNDANTLY clear that they NEVER enter the tiger enclosure (they work through the bars), the tigers had a large free area to roam, and that tigers exist in zoos for conservation and breeding purposes. They were not “pets.” I’m sure Tony’s owners love him… but he is not a house cat, and needs to be where his needs can be properly met.

    • EXACTLY!! Treating Tony more like a house cat than the magnificent wild animal that he is demeans him! It robs him of his very essence – the thing that makes him awe-inspiring.

      I’m disgusted just reading about the poor baby elephant. I wonder what became of her.

  • The Road Dogs says:

    LOVE this post! You are totally preaching to the choir here. I worked with a non-profit for a few years whose mission was to abolish this kind of captivity. Long story, but it’s still a subject VERY dear to my heart.

    PeeS – thanks for visiting our blog yesterday. I am hiding in embarrassment for not following through with my offer on dog-friendly places in Chucktown. I have not forgotten, but things got really busy (not a complaint!) and I just put it on the back burner. With vacation time coming up and travelers wanting to know of dog-friendly places, I will try to move it to the front of the stove. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions about our town and pet-friendly places, feel free to email me.

    • Hi there Dogs! Don’t feel bad about not getting to the post. I’m not going anywhere … well, actually I am :-) … but the offer to guest post about Chucktown stands until you get time to write it!

    • Hi there Dogs! Don’t feel bad about not getting to the post. I’m not going anywhere … well, actually I am :-) … but the offer to guest post about Chucktown stands until you get time to write it!

    • Hi there Dogs! Don’t feel bad about not getting to the post. I’m not going anywhere … well, actually I am :-) … but the offer to guest post about Chucktown stands until you get time to write it!

  • Hi Y’all,

    Why are we so conceited to think animals are dumb, have no feelings such as pain or fear and have no soul?

    Animals think differently because they have to in order to survive. They are not dumb. They communicate, Humans just are not smart enough to understand their subtle communication.

    As to their soul – Job 12:10 “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind”

    BrownDog’s Momma

    • Hi BrownDog’s Momma – the only explanation I can think of is that those people are dumb and have no feelings or soul. The awesomeness of the animal kingdom is so humbling – it amazes me how many people believe we’re the superior species.

    • Hi BrownDog’s Momma – the only explanation I can think of is that those people are dumb and have no feelings or soul. The awesomeness of the animal kingdom is so humbling – it amazes me how many people believe we’re the superior species.

    • Hi BrownDog’s Momma – the only explanation I can think of is that those people are dumb and have no feelings or soul. The awesomeness of the animal kingdom is so humbling – it amazes me how many people believe we’re the superior species.

  • Michele says:

    Thanks Amy, I totally agree with you. After your first posting about Tony the Tiger, I heard from someone who said they didn’t think he was abused. He is loved by his owner–and that is the key. Do we really have the right to own something that is wild? I don’t think so.

    I agree with you about circuses too. I don’t like them, and my husband actually worked for Big Apple Circus in their hospital care unit. He was a clown doctor. We went to a performance and saw a kangaroo dressed in boxing gloves and shorts. He and his owner were boxing. I walked out. It was terrible. I couldn’t find the funny in this at all. I don’t go to circuses at all.

    I must admit that I have been to zoos. I don’t like them either. It breaks my heart seeing animals in cages.

    • Michele, I think it’s a pretty sad commentary on our race that so many of us find these things not only acceptable, but entertaining.

      I guess I’ve made some peace with zoos, but only the ones that have natural habitat enclosures with plenty of space for the animals to move around. Education is important, as are research and breeding programs, for the survival of some animals barely hanging on thanks to our destruction of their habitat.I wish they weren’t necessary, but given the state of things, they may be the only alternative to extinction.

    • Michele, I think it’s a pretty sad commentary on our race that so many of us find these things not only acceptable, but entertaining.

      I guess I’ve made some peace with zoos, but only the ones that have natural habitat enclosures with plenty of space for the animals to move around. Education is important, as are research and breeding programs, for the survival of some animals barely hanging on thanks to our destruction of their habitat.I wish they weren’t necessary, but given the state of things, they may be the only alternative to extinction.

    • Michele, I think it’s a pretty sad commentary on our race that so many of us find these things not only acceptable, but entertaining.

      I guess I’ve made some peace with zoos, but only the ones that have natural habitat enclosures with plenty of space for the animals to move around. Education is important, as are research and breeding programs, for the survival of some animals barely hanging on thanks to our destruction of their habitat.I wish they weren’t necessary, but given the state of things, they may be the only alternative to extinction.

  • I’ve never understood the appeal of owning an exotic animal like a tiger. You can’t pet it or play with it and it’s stuck in this little itty bitty cage. And here’s some food for thought. Did you know that there are more tigers living in Texas than in India?
    http://factzoo.posterous.com/more-tigers-in-texas-than-india

    • That’s sickening, Karen – but important to know. Thanks for sharing. I agree, it would never occur to me to want to own an exotic animal. Their beauty is derived from the way the live in the wild – not from looking at them in the confines of a small cage.

  • You know the old cliche, if you truly love it, set it free. This surely applies to Tony. I don’t know what it would take to rehabilitate him into the wild, but if possible, that is where tigers belong.

    • Wouldn’t that be wonderful, Peggy?!? Because Tony was born in captivity it may not be possible to place him in the wild – but at least he could live in a sanctuary where his life would be closer to nature.

    • MyKinKStar says:

      Tony would not and could not be set free back into the wild. Tony would be sent to an accredited sanctuary, to live in a natural habitat – with bushes, trees, and WATER! Tony would see others like himself for the fist time in his life, and perhaps have a buddy too – IF ONLY on the other side of a fence!

  • I totally agree with you- especially this point: Loving another being means wanting what’s best for them, even if it causes us pain.

    When a being is in our care it is our responsibility to do what is in the best interest of that being.

    Tony’s plight is heartbreaking- can you imagine the boredom he lives with day in and day out?

    • I cannot imagine it Shauna, and it breaks my heart when I think about it. Unfortunately, there are many, many animals facing the same plight. If the measure of humanity is the way we treat animals, we have a long way to go.

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