Jacksonville's Catty Shack Ranch Has Big Dreams

April 10, 2014 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jacksonville’s Catty Shack Ranch provides homes to big cats for decades in an effort to save the lives of its inhabitants and educate as many visitors as possible on the various big cat species and the occasional "odd ball" at the Ranch.

 “They all have very different personalities” the guide says.

And like the average house cat- they really do. Resident rarity and beauty Topaz is a shining example, of both the unique personalities associated with all the cats, as well as the danger these 250-600 lb cats can pose to not just their prey, but also to other cats and humans as well. A stunning and rare strawberry, or golden tabby tiger, Topaz is estimated to be one anywhere from 30-60 of these uniquely colored tigers- all of which are in captivity. As for her personality- well, she knows she’s beautiful, and therefore she doesn’t like sharing her space with anyone else who might try to tell her otherwise. Curt LoGiudice is able to live the dream and venture in to some of the enclosures with the select few animals that he has formed a bond with over the years, mostly to check them over for any possible problems or to subtly tranquilize them. Unfortunately, Topaz is not one of them.

Like the majority of tigers, Topaz enjoys her solitude. In the wild, it would be fairly uncommon to see multiple tigers coexisting together in the same territory. And when this does happen, an epic battle of claws, teeth, and strength usually ensues and the victor assumes control of the given territory while the loser is left dead, or injured and homeless. In captivity however, it’s often a slightly different story, however zoo’s, and sanctuaries must still be careful to keep the more aggressive tigers separated from the others. Occasionally however, places like Catty Shack Ranch are able to find a couple even tempered cats to coexist together in harmony for the sake of saving space, as is the case with residents Czarina and Zeus. In fact, most big cats prefer to live in areas by themselves, with the exception of lions who prefer the ‘pride’ life and live in groups much like Catty Shack residents Tal and Nyra.

Visitors often remark just how close they are to the animals as they crane their necks around to catch a better look at the cats. And while so many love being able to get so close to these exotic cats, others wish that the enclosures could be bigger, and the good people at Catty Shack couldn’t agree more! The ranch currently sets on about 10 acres of land, and it is the dream of the volunteers and founder Curt LoGiudice to expand that land from 10 acres to 100. But with an ever growing feline family, and all the expenses that come along with it, saving enough money to be able to afford something like an expanded open sanctuary for visitors, becomes just that- a dream. That’s why the Ranch is eagerly setting its sights on Jacksonville’s own legendary One Spark event to help raise not only raise awareness for just who they are and what they do, but also to raise additional funding for the animals and their dreams of expansion.  

While the story of Catty Shack Ranch as a whole is a positive one, the lives of some of its inhabitants have been far less fortunate. Breeders, pet shops, and shut down zoos are just a few of the stories you’ll hear on your tour as you navigate the paths surrounding the numerous enclosures. Out of the Ranch’s two resident foxes, Chula and Tippy, the beautiful arctic fox Chula was originally purchased in a pet shop here in Jacksonville, the new owners were told to raise her as they would raise a dog. When the dog-like training failed the owners were forced to surrender their pet and luckily Catty Shack Ranch was able to step in and give her a home.

In another instance, a zoo was being forced to close and trying desperately to re-home their animals. In the final hour, Catty Shack Ranch founder Curt, drove up to the zoo located all the way up in Wisconsin, and brought back 3 three month old tiger cubs which were aptly named-Colby, Monterey, and Brie. Today you can find the inseparable trio lounging and playing together in their massive enclosure complete with cabin and in ground pool.
If these enclosures sound expensive, that’s because they are. Each new enclosure costs roughly $12,000- the bulk of which accounts for the massive duo 16ft high fences put in place to protect not only the sanctuaries guests, but also the animals themselves. Thanks to generous donations from various local as well as nationwide companies, Catty Shack Ranch has been able to provide more homes for these creatures than they ever previously imagined that they could with only 10 acres of space. But despite everything, they still get calls often asking them to take on more animals and the sad truth is that they just don’t have the space.

So what happens to the cats that don’t find refuge at Catty Shack or one of the few similar establishments? The animals are bought, sold, and traded for amusement and entertainment of all sorts, whether they are sent to a new zoo and thrust into a new and unfamiliar enclosure surrounded by foreign and potentially dangerous cats, or sent to a circus where they will be poked, prodded, and potentially starved in order to entertain people who expect mind boggling feats that defy nature. Sometimes the animals are sold for the purposes of canned hunting, in which an animal is released into an open space, only to be hunted down and killed for the sake of sport. Some animals are simply euthanized if a suitable or profitable deal could not be arranged for them. Most recently the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark, became the focal point of international scrutiny when it shot, and then dissected a young giraffe in front of school children and then fed his remains to their lions (three of which were euthanized just weeks after) all to make room for more animals. While this practice is illegal here in the states, that is not to say that an unwanted lion couldn’t end up re-homed in a European Zoo and become a victim of a similar fate.

To have an animal sanctuary no more than a hop, skip, and a jump from our front door here in Jacksonville is truly a remarkable gift. Jacksonville has been good to the Ranch, which is why the beloved ranch would love to stay within the city in its quest for expansion. Because Jacksonville is so close to the Florida/Georgia border, the Ranch gets visitors from both states as well as the average tourists. Ranked number one on TripAdvisor’s “Things To Do” for Jacksonville, and with over 17,500 likes on Facebook they must be doing something right.  

Neighbors often remark hearing the roars and growls of the cats anywhere from 1 to 5 miles away. On the Ranch’s Facebook page, nearby resident Colette Horne writes “I live down the road and it is so amazing to be on my back porch with a cup of coffee listening to the lions roar. I love hearing them!”

Local news sources, and creative kind hearted souls like Keagan Anfuso and Nick Solorzano’s video production team Gravity Dog, have made it a point to do what they can for this fantastical feline sanctuary, as has the rest of Jacksonville. Catty Shack is participating at One Spark, their eyes are on the prize! For those of you unfamiliar with One Spark, a sea of booths are set up in various locations downtown, visitors are given the option to vote and throw their support behind what cause they think is the most worth of support. At the end of the One Spark event, votes are counted and financial prizes are handed out to the projects with the highest number of votes. For Catty Shack Ranch to be able to be awarded even just one of these coveted prizes, it would help to make a dream come true.

Article by:

Katie Shearer graduated with her Bachelor’s in English Literature and History from the University of Central Florida in 2013. Specializing in all areas of writing, editing, and currently working in web marketing, this Daytona Beach native is happy to call Jacksonville her home. In her spare time she enjoys old movies, good books, and digging in to countless historical subjects. Katie also enjoys writing poetry, short stories, as well as articles intended for publication on a variety to subject ranging from politics to pop culture.

Contact Katie at kateshearerx@gmail.com or www.facebook.com/katie.shearer.50

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