When it became clear that keeping Tony would be illegal under Louisiana’s welfare laws, Sandlin cozied up to local legislators. In 2014, then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a law specifically exempting Sandlin from the restrictions on wild animal ownership that applied to everyone else in the state.
"He went to the legislature and got sort of what we call a law ... just for him ... unconstitutionally passed," Dillard explained at the time. "It's clearly illegal."
For the next two years, ALDF and Sandlin continued to wage war in the courts. Just this past July, ALDF filed a lawsuit against the USDA for, among other things, refusing to expedite a FOIA records request on behalf of Tony. With awareness of Tony’s plight growing, ALDF and others were optimistic public opinion would shift far enough to make Tony’s eventual release inevitable.
But throughout it all, they recognized it was a race against time to free the aging tiger.
"Michael Sandlin seems to have dug his heels in, not because he doesn't know what he's doing to this majestic animal is wrong, but more because he doesn't want to be told what to do," Dr. Jennifer Conrad, a veterinarian and big cat specialist, told The Dodo presciently back in 2015. "It is sad to say that the 15-year-old tiger might not live long enough to see his rescue at this rate."