Craig Grant, founder and operator of nonprofit so-called 'cat sanctuary' Caboodle Ranch was arrested for the neglect and abuse of nearly 700 cats in his care. On Apr. 2, donors and former owners of many of those cats formed a class action lawsuit that will eventually be filed against Grant.
Records from the Lee, Fla.-based 'ranch' show that Grant embezzled and misappropriated donations (meant for the care of the cats) for his own personal uses: trips to Las Vegas, tickets to Disney on Ice and the Daytona 500, and personal online purchases. Grant admitted in court that he did not typically record cash donations.
Larry and Ann Bechler -- a couple involved in the suit -- have, over the years, rescued feral and stray cats and given them new homes. When they brought two cats to Caboodle to be rehomed there, Grant told Larry there were 300 cats on the property, but he'd like 3,000.
But after dropping off their cats and leaving the ranch, the couple felt that something was not right. The following day, they said, they returned to find that one of their cats -- Emma -- was gone. Despite making many trips back to look for her, they never found her.
The abuse and fraud were first discovered by an investigator with PETA.
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is currently helping the Madison County Sheriff's Office and Madison County Animal Control manage and care for the hundreds of cats. The animals were seized in what was the largest number of cats ever taken by the ASPCA in an animal cruelty investigation.
The animals are being housed in a temporary shelter in Jacksonville, where a team of responders from about a dozen agencies are tending to them, ASPCA reports. Many of these animals exhibited eye infections (some of which resulted in blindness), ringworm, feline leukemia, intestinal parasites, and other conditions.
The situation was thrown into a grim light after cat burial sites were found on Caboodle Ranch property; and cat skulls were found in the woods nearby.
"What a lucrative business," said Ann Bechler, "charging desperate, caring people to take homeless cats at $100 to $200 each. When they die a month later, he just takes more."
Photo: Cats roam the now shut down Caboodle Ranch in Feb. 2012. The cats are being removed and owner Craig Grant faces animal cruelty and fraud charges.Mike Bizelli/ASPCA/AP