How would you like to live in a cage at a truck stop in Louisiana?
Thirteen year old Tony is a 550 pound Siberian-Bengal tiger living alone in a cage at a truck stop in rural Louisiana. He's the main attraction at Tiger Truck Stop, where the truck stop's owner is fighting to persuade visitors that Tony loves his captivity so much that he would be depressed if he was moved to a sanctuary. There's more information about Tony at The Dodo and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
This case saddens me so much, although it's great to see a version of the Blackfish effect happening, with lots of media coverage and so many people calling and writing on Tony's behalf. What saddens me (beyond the inherent tragedy of a wild animal kept alone in a cage at a truck stop) is the intersection of capitalism and animal abuse. In this case there's a particularly Southern slant to animal captivity. I don't say this as an outsider; I say it as a Southerner, a white woman raised primarily in the South. So much of white Southern culture is based on pride of ownership -- ownership of anything. I wouldn't want to be owned by another person, and I wouldn't want to live in a cage, and I wouldn't want to live at a truck stop. And I'm not a 550 pound tiger. No amount of bottle feeding can make a wild animal into a pet. The obvious cruelty of this situation breaks my heart, especially the truck stop owner's justifications. So what can be done? There are legal experts fighting this battle, and others similar to it. You and I can write letters, make phone calls, share information, donate money, and express concern. But I wonder about other creative strategies for animal rescue. In this instance, I wonder about the strategy of substitution. What do I mean? Well, obviously this truck stop owner relies on Tony the Tiger as an advertising strategy. What makes a driver exit at one truck stop, rather than another? What makes someone travel to rural Louisiana? In this instance, it's a tiger, and the chance to gawk, to experience a tiny thrill. What if we substitute another thrill or another pleasure? What if, instead of a caged tiger, there was some other attraction housed at this business? In many cases of animal abuse, the "owner" of the animal thinks that relinquishing their property represents some kind of loss. What if we approach these owners with substitutions? And I don't necessarily mean money (although Sam Simon's approach to buying abused animals outright seems like an incredibly beautiful use of his fortune). What else might lure a trucker off the highway -- what service, what show, what gesture, what equipment that does no harm, that doesn't exploit either animals or humans? If we substitute; if we educate; if we get creative, we contribute to the movement, too. I don't know where to go from here, but I'm thinking about it. It seems an avenue worth pursuing. Meanwhile, Tony paces his cage.