Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
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MARCH 7, 2012 10:29AM

Trouble at the Ranch

Rate: 33 Flag

 

Usually when my sister sends me an email, it’s a link to something she thought was funny, or a picture of one her pets wearing some kind of costume.  Nothing prepared me for the troubling message I got yesterday. 

In the subject line, I read “Caboodle Ranch”.  Some of you may have seen this place on TV news segments, or may even have donated to it.  The Caboodle Ranch is a 30-acre non-profit rescue site for abandoned cats, located near the small town of Lee, Florida.  The Ranch was founded in 2003/2004 by a man named Craig Grant.  From what I’ve read about him, including information on the Caboodle Ranch’s official site, Grant didn't start out as a cat lover. But a few years ago, when his son gave him his pregnant cat to care for, Grant had an awakening.  He grew so attached to the cat and her offspring, and so horrified when neighbors tried to hurt some of them, that he decided to devote his life to rescuing stray and abandoned felines.  He found a plot of land in rural Florida (originally 5 acres), and desperately saved money for it.  When he could afford it, he left behind all of his worldly possessions and began his new life on what he soon dubbed the Caboodle Ranch.

From information and pictures on its official website, as well as other images I’ve seen of it, and articles I’ve read about it, the Ranch mostly seems to be land that an estimated 700 rescued cats can roam around on. But there are also areas where they can drink fresh water, plenty of chairs for sunbathing, and cute little miniature houses set up to look like a picturesque village (one is even painted to look like a Wal-Mart) that they can go inside.  In addition to these structures, there’s an air-conditioned trailer where sick cats are kept and treated, and a separate building and screened-in outdoor area for FIV-positive cats*. 

Although a sizeable portion of them were simply dumped at the Ranch, most of the cats there were formally given to Grant or one of his volunteer staff members, along with a one-time fee of $150 to go towards food, care, etc., for the Ranch’s feline population. These cats are spayed or neutered, if they weren’t already, and allowed to roam free on the Ranch, which seems to be regularly monitored and cleaned several times a day.  Once given to the Ranch, a cat cannot be adopted; the Ranch’s site instead asks that you adopt from a shelter, to help an animal at risk of being euthanized.

For my sister and me, as well as for cat-lovers around the world, the Caboodle Ranch was a sort of dream idea.  I found Grant’s story so inspiring, and it’s clear that with the amount of cats that have been abandoned there, such a shelter is needed. What makes it so wonderful, too, is this: In many no-kill shelters, cats that go unadopted will live out their lives in a cage.  Those at the Ranch are free to move around, climb, and interact with others.  

My sister and I don’t have many dreams in common, but one was to visit and volunteer at the Caboodle Ranch one day.  Another, deep in our hearts, is to find the means and the courage to take on a similar responsibility ourselves, helping abandoned animals by creating a haven for them.  For now, we do what we can, donating to charities when we're able to, and trying to help any animal in need that we come across.

So when I saw that email, I figured my sister had sent me maybe a series of cute pictures from the Ranch, which you can see on their official site – or maybe she was going to tell me that, during an upcoming trip to Florida she’s planning with her husband and some friends, she was going to finally get to visit that sacred-to-us place.  When I opened the email, though, this is what I read:

Such bad news, I just got an email from the aspca they just rescued 700+ cats from the caboodle ranch in FL due to neglect and abuse :( they said they are all sick and even found some dead, and some in shallow graves.

My mouth dropped open in shock.

It may seem inevitable to some people that taking care of 700 cats would turn out to be just too much for one man to do alone.  But Craig Grant had a steady team of volunteers working with him, and, according to the Ranch’s website, when it came to severe health problems, a local veterinarian he consulted with and sent cats to. Unlike the way some people have portrayed him, Grant is not some crazy old cat hoarder guy:  His operation seemed organized, and there was certainly enough space for the cats to move around freely.

When you watch videos of the Ranch, including this hilarious story about it from The Colbert Report, the cats seem happy and well-taken-care-of, and the facilities look clean.  In addition, in all of  the (unbiased, because not on the official Ranch site) accounts I’ve read over the years of visits and/or volunteer experiences there , people have always left feeling impressed and moved by what they saw.  The only remotely troubling thing (given the current controversy) I’ve read in one or two testimonials is that they weren’t allowed access to some buildings or areas.  

So what happened?

According to information I got from the Caboodle Ranch’s website, as well as cat-related forums, last year, a woman from PETA infiltrated the Ranch, working undercover as a volunteer. During that time, she apparently took some disturbing photos and video of sick cats, dirty facilities, and shallow graves, which she then turned in to PETA.  (You can see the pictures and footage here, though be warned - they contain disturbing images.)  Although the Caboodle Ranch has always claimed that the ASPCA and other organizations have inspected their locale and approved it, this time things were different.

Members of the ASPCA, PETA, and local law enforcement arrived on the morning of February 26, allegedly before the litter boxes could be cleaned and other things made ready for the day (which is also the context in which the Ranch claims the PETA spy took those photos and images).  Craig Grant was arrested at gunpoint, and the cats were rounded up and taken away.  According to the ASPCA’s site, these animals were brought to veterinarians, and those who are healthy are now being held in shelters throughout the area while Grant awaits trial (the cats are considered “evidence”). After that, they’ll be put up for adoption.  The sick cats who were found, were euthanized.

It’s hard to tell what really happened here. On the one hand, maybe the Ranch just did get out of hand.  Without veterinary or prior animal care experience, maybe Grant really didn’t know what was best for the cats. But as a fan of the Caboodle Ranch’s blog, I find that hard to believe.  The way Grant referred to the cats, the images and stories shared, didn’t add up to someone who was overwhelmed or neglecting the animals; in fact, the operation seemed very well-run and very concerned with the cats’ well-being.  

In terms of the sick cats, Grant has talked about returning many of them to health, with volunteers, or, in extreme cases, with the help of a local veterinarian. In this video, from the popular French animal-lovers' show 3 Millions d’Amis, we see Grant in the trailer for sick cats, where we hear that he would regularly spend the night monitoring the ailing animals, sleeping among them.  I realize that it doesn’t take much but self-delusion to play doctor or God to beings that are in your care.  But Grant’s apt gestures remind me very much of vets and vet techs I’ve known – and I’ve known many.

My mother worked in veterinary medicine for nearly 25 years, and my siblings and I spent countless hours hanging out behind the scenes in clinics.  I’ve seen major and minor surgeries, check-ups, and even euthanasia performed on a variety of animals, and I’ve come to know the way responsible animal caretakers behave.  One thing in the video of Grant in the sick room especially struck me: One of the cats needed fluids.  Grant himself deftly inserts the needle where it needs to go, as the sick cat calmly lets him do so.  When I was a teenager, one of my family’s cats, Guido, went into kidney failure.  Kidney problems are sadly common among cats, and in Guido’s case, it could have meant needing to be put to sleep.  But with the knowledge she had, and access to animal medical supplies, my mother put Guido on fluids.  With utter devotion, she would take him up on our kitchen table every day, hook the IV bag to the hanging lamp, and wait.  After a week or two of regular sessions like this, Guido’s kidneys started working again, and he was able to go off the fluids and live a normal, healthy life for several more years.  It was touching to see Grant care for an animal he may not have had a lot of personal interaction with before, the same way my mother determinedly kept alive our beloved pet.

There is some suspicion about PETA’s involvement in the raid on the Ranch.  Various animal lovers’ online forums, like this one, point out their dislike of the organization, whose methods are considered radical and attention-getting.  Conveniently, some (including the Caboodle Ranch’s blog) say, PETA is currently fighting the proposed Animal Care Act, which would allow shelters to give animals to private, no-kill rescue organizations.  PETA fears that the latter kind of organizations aren't well-regulated and could be places where animals would face abuse and neglect.  Some think that raiding the Caboodle Ranch could have been a sort of very showy means of making a statement.

Others have pointed out the fact that apparently many people in the town of Lee didn’t like the idea of so many cats being around (though the Ranch is surrounded by a fence, some cats could, of course, climb or jump over it).  The Mayor is up for reelection soon, so this could be a coup for him, as well.  The Caboodle Ranch’s blog has reported that one of their neighbors has been seen shooting any cats who weren’t taken away during the raid. 

Another detail that’s been remarked on is, not only were the cats removed from the Ranch, but all of the little houses that were made for them were destroyed.  This seems like an unnecessary gesture, and on some forums people think that it, if nothing else, shows that there’s more to the situation than meets the eye.  Did Grant make enemies who ultimately brought him down?  Were the animal protection organizations involved acting irrationally?

Though I’ve done a lot of reading and video-watching about the Ranch, it’s really hard to say.  I find it very hard to believe Grant is guilty of neglect.  I think that, as an eccentric person, he may just be misunderstood. For example, one of the photos taken by PETA’s spy apparently shows a cat skull lying somewhere on the property.  According to this animal forum thread from 2010 (see Magic Mood Jeep's long comment), Grant and his volunteers claim that this is a well-known sight, and was the skull of one of Grant’s favorite cats, whose remains he didn't want to disturb.  If this is true (and judging by the way Grant and his volunteers talk about the cats on the Ranch’s site and blog, I believe it is), it’s strange and possibly a small health hazard (though with the bugs and carrion birds of Florida, I can’t imagine anything besides the bones stayed around for long), but don’t all pet-lovers sometimes have odd things we do when it comes to our animals, and our grief at losing them?  

I want to believe that the Caboodle Ranch provided a great life for the rescued cats who lived there.  I know that, realistically, having that many cats will inevitably mean some will be involved in fights, perhaps get sick and go unnoticed, or have other problems.  But overall, it seemed a Paradise-like fate for unwanted felines, especially compared to the alternative.

Because whatever you believe, the most troubling part of the story is what will now happen to the confiscated cats.  Some will probably be adopted into loving homes. But those who aren’t will either end up living out their days in a very different environment than the relatively free place they knew, or they’ll simply be euthanized.  The situation begs a question that several people on forums have asked: Is it better for a cat to be in a place where it might be somewhat neglected, but at least is free and has some chance of access to basic care, as well as a regular food and water supply – or should an animal, through no fault of its own, be forever caged – or killed – simply because of bad human decision-making?

The bad decision-making I’m referring to isn’t Craig Grant’s possibly unrealistic ambition to have a shelter for hundreds of cats. Nor is it the possible over-zealous behavior of the ASPCA, PETA, animal control, and local law enforcement involved in the case.  The bad decision-making starts with every person who owns an animal and doesn’t have it spayed or neutered, every person who buys a kitten because it’s cute, then feels they can just get rid of it when it grows up.  These are the true guilty parties in the case, no matter whose side you’re on.

 

 

______________________________________________________________________

*FIV is what you might be thinking: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.  FIV is transmitted more or less the same way HIV is – through contact with bodily fluids --  but since cats have more of a tendency to bite and scratch each other than humans do, it’s easier for cats to catch.  It can’t be caught by humans or other animals, just as cats can’t get HIV.  FIV cats, like humans with HIV, can live normal, fulfilling lives, but have to have special care.  They are generally adopted into homes where they’re the only cat, or where all the other cats are already FIV-positive.  There are many charities that adopt out FIV cats.  If you’re interested, an internet search will give you places that do this in your area.

 

If you believe Craig Grant is innocent, you can show your support by signing this online petition to free him, re-open the Ranch, and obtain a formal apology from the organizations involved in the raid.

 

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I chose not to include any images or video - only links - in order to try to keep this post as unbiased as possible.
I hate people. Waking my cats up now to pet them.
Myriad - That is definitely a decision I can get behind!
What a shame. We'll have to see how it all plays out. It's hard to tell what issues are at play, and how to spread the blame in percentages. I do know that keeping cats healthy in a shelter environment is nearly impossible. Cats are not meant to be housed in such large numbers together, and respiratory infections spread from one to the other like wildfire in a continual fashion as a new cats with different viruses are introduced. Ringworm is another huge problem. At the high-kill animal control facility where I used to volunteer, ringworm was a "lethal" illness for a cat because a cat with it was immediately euthanized so as to keep it from spreading to the other cats, rendering them unadoptable (because no family wants to adopt a cat with ringworm -- an infection that spreads easily to human beings and other pets), and still it was a continual problem.

I agree with PETA that no-kill organizations aren't licensed or regulated as they should be, but neither are standard shelters (they are rarely, if ever, inspected), and most shelters already have a tight relationships with well-regarded specific breed rescues within their communities.

I also agree that the people ultimately to blame for animal suffering are the original owners who refuse to take pet ownership seriously and refuse to spay/neuter their pets. And until shelters begin to actively publicize their euthanasia numbers (rather than hiding them for fear of being blamed and reviled, when they did not create the overage of pets and the shortage of homes) people will be allowed to stick their heads in the sand and pretend not to know what's going on. Euthanasia isn't a shelter problem. It's a community problem.
I hadn't heard about this 'til now. Here's the link to the Tampa Bay Times story. He may have gotten overwhelmed. Too bad- it looked like such a nice place.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/article1217999.ece
I spent a few years working with animal activists and the most extreme among them--and PETA is extreme--believe that animals should have no interaction with humans at all (there is such a thing as vegan soil, BTW) and that dogs and cats are better off dead than enslaved as pets. PETA itself has come under fire for the very high kill rate at its shelters. That said, I don't know about Caboodle to be able to speak to its situation. In 2010, Alley Cat Allies had to respond to PETA's calls to kill feral cats http://www.alleycat.org/page.aspx?pid=897. I respect the work undercover animal activists do and often they bring horrific abuses to light, but that doesn't mean they and their motives shouldn't be scrutinized closely as well.
Alysa.. this just makes me cry.
HUGGGGGGGGGGGG
Speaking here from about 10 years working with a NP Corp cat rescue, and the local SPCA.

There are no easy answers here. First, I do not think a rush to judgement on either side of this conflict makes sense. We are for the most part working in a nearly fact-free environment wrt this case. We will not get much in the way of facts, since the folks involved will now focus on quietly preparing their legal cases.

Some facts:

Fact: 700 cats on 5 acres is equivalent to 35 cats per quarter-acre.

Dsicussion: Often counties have a legal limit of 5 or 7 owned cats per zoned parcel. Animal welfare and human public health concerns underlie these laws. Perhaps this org is covered under different law governing rescues, perhaps not. In either case, this density of free-range cats is difficult to manage, and the population density per se is a likely source of serious problems for the cats and the surrounding parcels.

Fact: The cats held as evidence in a legal contest will not be adoptable until the trial (and maybe appeals) are completed.

Discussion: The shelters holding the cats will do the best they can. It is likely they will need to destroy other adoptable cats and/or immediately euthanize abaonded cats to keep space available for these. Long interments in shelters of any type affect cats in ways that will render fewer and fewer of them appropriate for domsetic adoption over time.

Lessons to be learned:

PETA is nobody's friend. No voice of reason and no amount of good deeds can speak louder than a naked lady. If you want to help animals in your community, be careful whom you choose as your friends.

Municipal Animal Control and the Local SPCA org must be amopng your partners if you want to have an effective rescue. (1) In most areas, they have a strong legal stake in the welfare of all animals, regardless of legal ownership. They can shut down any rescue they do not like. Deal with it. Be their partners, not their competition.(2) A close relationship with these folks provides a grounding effect on a rescue. IMHO it is vital to have that connection to constantly know how your rescue measures against community norms. You need to be in touch with these folks all the time if you don't want surprizes. A rescue can leverage its effectiveness this way, too. Joint programs involving Municipal Animal Controal, your local SPCA, and a non-kill rescue can attract the best grants.

Adoptions are the best way to forge strong bonds broadly through your community. A rescue without a long list of happy adotion families in its community has very few local friends. Your adopters are among your most dependable supporters.

A hoarder motivation is part of what drives rescue people, like it or not, this is true. Trouble comes to town when this gets out of hand. Any rescue that does not adopt is at risk of devolving into what animal control folks call a "holder-hoarder shelter". These operations get shut down all the time, all over the country.
This is so sad that I just don't know what to say other than thank you for sharing this and providing so much insight on it and especially for making the super important point about having pets spayed or neutered!
At another look -
I have never heard of PETA representatives doing ride-alongs with Animal Control. "Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice."
Great reporting, Alysa, about a very disturbing subject. Here there is an organization called Two Left Paws that finds foster homes for neutered cats who have not been declawed. They have a very vigorous vetting system for anyone who wants to adopt their cats.
a good story, but as you so deftly show here, it is difficult to know what is really going on. I hope the man has not lost his capacity to dream of being a force for good, and that at the least he can educate himself so that if he should try again, he can hope to be more successful.
Whatever the truth or the reasons, this is just sad. For the cats, Craig Grant, and you and your sister. Good reporting.
I am suspect of any action in which PETA is invovled. They have a long history of staging "Events" and munipulating evidence to fit their needs.
In these situtions it might take years for the truth to come out. It's possible Grant is rotten, and it's possible that he's great and made powerful enemies. So much luck and grace needed now for the truth to come out. Let's hope for the sake of the people and animals involved that it comes out soon. This story gives me the creeps. Thanks for sharing it here.
i was impressed by your impartiality in judgment
even while showing your obvious bias.
you would have made a damn fine lawyer:
you presented all the evidence in orderly fashion.

hundreds of cats...700...seems like an overwhelming project.
leaving room for...temporary neglect of certain necessities?


Also I know your fiction. And travelogues.
This is an example of your effortlessly expert journalistic
ability.

What a multi talent, you! Any sign of young'un pigeon?
Hiss, hiss, hiss. Makes me wanna scratch somebody's eyes out.
I shall endorse Bellwether Vance's comment, which says what I might have said were to have had to write something myself.

Pers0nally, I find it odd that PETA would find it necessary to deploy an undercover operative to spy upon and gather evidence against this place. Have they run out of furriers to picket and fur coat wearers to drench in blood? Why single out for harassment somebody who's trying - perhaps not as successfully as we would like - to be kind to animals nobody else wants? I could see being suspicious if Grant drove around in a Lexus, smoked Cuban cigars and imported "royal heiresses" from Tripoli for his amusement. I'd want to look at his bookkeeping.
This is world and some time strange thing happen to innocent people
I had not heard of this place. I am sorry if it was all done unnecessarily. I feel sorry for the animals.
First, thanks for no images. Homeless or suffering animals is unbearable. I always thought these cat farms as great but unrealistic. I do wish I could wave a wand and give every cat a living home. The world would be a better place for that.
I want to go home to my cats.
What a terrible shame. I have read about the Caboodle Ranch and so admired Mr. Grant and the work he was doing. I have 4 cats of my own -- all adoptees and one blind -- and feel for the fate of those who remain.
That is so sad. It sounds like he was doing great work, and I'd like to bring light to something very bad that the ASPCA is doing. It's very possible that a lot of his cats are being put down, and that his arrest is unjustified. I work with a rescue group in New York City that takes adoptable animals out of the city shelter system, and have helped to rescue cats in my community in Queens. There is a battle going on right now about what rescuers are calling the "ASPCA Kill Bill. There seems to be a Kill attitude in the ASPCA, and it is very very troubling. Please read this blog below that will help shed light on the matter. It's a matter of money and people with power, and a bill that would enable NYS shelters to put down animals immediately upon entering if they are shy or afraid or are in psychological pain. Peoples' lost pets could be put down with this bill, without even having their microchips checked to reunited them with their caretakers. This blog below sheds a lot of light on the subject. Thank you for your good post. I will look up the Caboodle ranch, and post my support for this kind soul.

http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=8559
Hi again, here is a way to fight against the ASPCA's heartless Kill Bill.

Below is a link to a very easy and painless way to voice your opposition to a recently drafted bill which would allow shelters to immediately kill any animal who presents with what any two members of staff identify as "psychological pain". Any animal entering a shelter, a feral, a stray, a relinquished pet or your own beloved lost pet, who upon admittance presents with a tremble, a bark, a growl, a hiss, a cower, averted eyes or just a subjectively determined aspect of fear or confusion or timidity, could be immediately killed with no mandated holding period. Terrified and confused animals would not be allowed the smallest allotment of time - not an hour, not a day - to adjust and calm and be assessed.


http://www.capwiz.com/thenokillnation/issues/alert/?alertid=61009006&type=CU
This is so sad! For many reasons. Lovng cats as I do, I want them to have a happy home with space to roam around, both companionship and solitude, good care and a person who loves them. I don't want to think that they were neglected. And I'm so sad about those little houses being needlessly destroyed as well; they were adorable. For Craig to come home to find the place he'd worked so hard to build destroyed in that callous way makes me angry.

I'd forgotten about that hilarious vet, though. Fire a gun? If Dmitri had opposable thumbs, the first thing he'd want to learn how to work would be a can opener. Despite looking in excellent health, he's constantly trying to tell me I'm starving him to death. =o)

rated
Thank you for your comments and insights, guys. Those of you with shelter/PETA experience have made some really fascinating points.

Thanks also to those who've left links. I have to head to bed here but I will be looking at them over the next few days. Joanne - Thank you for shedding light on a big issue that I'm glad we can at least try to fight. How horrible that people will look for any excuse to kill animals. Why can't we adopt a system instead where money could go towards opening ranches (probably with less animals than at the Caboodle Ranch) where animals could be taken care of properly, in relative freedom, with regular controls by committees, etc.?
The raid does sound suspicious and, like you, I worry about the fate of the cats who don't get adopted. Indeed, it's true that the humans who neglect to spay/neuter are to blame!
No way I can untangle this one. But I agree wholeheartedly - get your animal fixed!
Is nothing what it seems? Reminds me of Apple's insane worker policy in China. I hate this bad news. I love my animals.R
Being the cat person I am I felt many emotions while reading this. Thanks so much for sharing and caring.

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Wow. You've done a beautiful job of not only telling the story, but being judicious and thoughtful in analyzing it. I'm no friend of PETA for a number of reasons, but the video they show is indeed disturbing and a stark contrast to the images of healthy, clean cats on his Caboodle site. But I was also struck by how few of the shots on the PETA video showed context -- not until the end does it show much background; instead we are shown endless close ups of very sick cats. But without seeing the environment in which they're living, it's hard to make an assessment. Toward the end, we see a bit more, and it is clearly pretty bad. But as you make clear, we don't have all the facts and there are many questions that remain unanswered. In any event, I'd love to see you circulate this essay to the print media because you are presenting a disturbing story, but at the same time reminding us not to judge without all the facts.
Thanks for bringing to everyone's attention. Man, it is a crazy world. God bless the little things. R