"No cats turned away."
Words that ought to set off alarm bells to anyone truly concerned about animal welfare.
Is the idea of a place where the hundreds of unwanted stray and feral cats can live out their lives in peace too good to be true?
I thought that might be the case when I first heard about Caboodle Ranch several years ago, but I, like many others, was sucked in by kitty playground the owner had built with his own hands on his 30-acre spread in northwest Florida.
Today authorities raided Caboodle Ranch, once featured on "The Colbert Report," removing 700 cats and charging owner with a felony county of animal cruelty.
Craig Grant, 63, also is facing three misdemeanor counts of cruelty and one count of fraud and is being held on $250,000 bond.
Caboodle Ranch was eye candy for the national media, shaded paths, ponds, rows of brightly-painted cathouses and treehouses- a mini-kitty city where cats could presumably while away their time lounging in the Florida sun.
On his website Grant describes the property as a "permanent sanctuary for cats who have been kicked around by heartless people." He states all the cats are up-to-date on vaccinations and get seen regularly by a vet.
The reality was very different, according to investigators.
Video footage taken by an investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, shows cats suffering from upper-respiratory infections so severe that the animals gasped for air and struggled to breathe, as mucus dripped from their noses
"Cats at Caboodle Ranch suffered from open wounds, debilitating respiratory disease, parasites, eye ulcerations, and more," says PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. "'No-kill' was really 'slow-kill' for hundreds of cats in this grossly inhumane 'cat ranch.'"
Tim Rickey, senior director of the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response team, called the situation "tragic."
“Caboodle Ranch was clearly overwhelmed with hundreds of cats in dire need of medical treatment, and the sanctuary had no adoption program or any spay/neuter efforts to effectively manage its current population," said Rickey, of the group's largest-ever cat seizure in one location. "The ASPCA’s goal is to work quickly to remove these cats from the property and safely transport them to the temporary shelter, where they will be triaged by a veterinary team.”
Dozens of animal rescuers and rescue groups from as far away as California are assisting in the operation.
For Pennsylvania animal lovers, word of the horrific conditions at Caboodle Ranch brought back nightmarish images of Tiger Ranch, the Pittsburgh-area facility which proclaimed itself a refuge for abandoned felines, taking in cats from all over the East Coast.
But Tiger Ranch it turned out was a one-way ticket to more misery for these poor animals.
In 2008, the PSPCA raided the property, seizing 500 cats living in squalor most of them diseased or injured. Large burial pits were found on the property. Its owner, Linda Bruno, aka Lin Marie, was convicted of multiple counts of animal cruelty, spent several months in jail and was ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution to the PSPCA.
PETA's undercover video of Caboodle Ranch posted here. (Warning: Contains disturbing images.)