When we posted the USDA blog yesterday we noted the outcry related to the living conditions for Tony the Tiger, at Tiger Truck Stop in Louisiana. Hundreds, if not thousands, remain outraged that this cat is still living there. In looking at USDA inspection reports, nearly all of which cite "no non-compliances" with regards to the Animal Welfare Act regulations and standards for care, it seems clear the problem is the lack of strong laws (no surprise).
Check out these statements of "standards" quoted right of the Animal Welfare Act for "the Humane Handling, Care, Treatment, and Transportation of Warmblooded Animals Other Than Dogs, Cats*, Rabbits, Hamsters, Guinea Pigs, Nonhuman Primates, and Marine Mammals". The statements are very vague and without further explanation, allowing individual inspectors to be quite subjective in their judgements. When states, counties, and cities adopt their own laws and regulations they can be much more specific. Most are far more "strict" than the federal laws.
*meaning "domesticated", not "exotic".
Some examples of the Federal standards:
"The facility must be constructed of such material and of such strength as appropriate for the animal involved."
"Adequate potable water shall be availalbe on the premises."
"The ambient temperature shall not be allowed to fall below nor rise above temperatures compatible with the health and comfort of the animal."
"Enclosures shall be constructed and maintained so as to provide sufficient space to allow each animal to make normal postural and social adjustments with adequate freedom of movement."
Louisiana passed a new laws in 2006 that provide more strict regulation of exotic animals in captivity there. They in fact prohibit Tiger Truck Stop (and others) from getting addtiional exotic cats, breeding, and other practices. Existing cats, such as Tony, are "grandfathered" in and may continue to be held so long as these new requirements are met. It appears perhaps Tony's situation has led to much tighter regulations and has likely brought some improvement to his living conditions (although still probably not what any of us would hope for Tony). Eventually, these kinds of "grass-roots" changes will stop any further suffering in similar situations. Tony may prove to be a martyr. We can only hope that the outcries will continue for animals like Tony.
In the meantime, it is still important to understand and know the laws. Assuming the issues are all the "fault" of the USDA APHIS inspectors, or "government" in general, is to be naive. They can only hold people to the standards passed by legislators we elect. Working locally still appears to be the most effective way to make change happen. Keep talking, shouting, posting, and sharing... outrage is a force for continued change!