The Catty Shack, Jacksonville, Florida
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of a place named The Catty Shack. Visions of Bill Murray, moles and golf courses came to mind, but the spelling is ‘catty’ not ‘caddy’ shack. And its not about gossip. The Catty Shack is a rescue center for large cats like lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and panthers. And it’s right here in my hometown– Jacksonville, Florida.
The newspaper announced a public fundraiser: A chance to watch the felines feast for fifteen dollars. Game on.
I gathered a friend and her daughter and drove over to the north side of town, not far from the airport. Directions said to look for a mailbox with a statue of a lion. We certainly weren’t in Kansas, no wheat fields around, rather a residential neighborhood. Do they really house 40 big cats in a normal suburban setting? Oh my!
We entered though a security gate, then passed by a 15-foot-high stockade fence. Ahead, as far as my eyes could see, were enclosures with large animals. First up was a lovely lion whose mane reminded me of the Cowardly beast in the Wizard of Oz. Next to the lion was a scarecrow. No. A napping white Siberian tiger with the most gorgeous blue eyes and gigantic, supersized paws. His claws bespoke power; they were visceral weapons. Further along, three tigers frolicked in a swimming pool. Really now, there’s no place like home.
These sleek felines looked professionally groomed; their coats were shiny and their nails clean. I later learned they are given vitamins with each feeding, once daily, of 10 to 25 pounds of beef, chicken, or fish.
Biggest question — How did these magnificent critters end up here? Turns out a number of people obtain licenses to own large cats, but don’t maintain proper standards. The state also confiscates for illegal ownership or maltreatment. They are moved to Catty Shack and once a kitty arrives, it stays for the rest of its life. None are ever sold.
Curt LoGiudice, Executive Director/Curator or as I refer to him– Top Cat, has been running the sanctuary since its inception 25 years ago. He has a personal relationship with each animal, whom he refers to by name. Courageous Curt walks right into the enclosures with the feeding bowls. And, let me tell you, these carnivores (sometimes weighing 500 pounds) are ominous. When they go after their food, the fur flies. Couldn’t miss the loud, guttural growl of one tiger, as he bared his saber teeth, to another yet-to-be fed, cage mate.
On the night I visited, dinner was a huge bowl of chicken legs and wings. The sound of the cats crunching their food is akin to the noise branches make when a tree falls. Imagine amplifying the Frito Bandito’s bite into a chip by about a thousand. You’ll remember the snap.
I turned to my friend and said, ” Watching and hearing these cats devour their meal is one of the strangest things we’ve done in a long time.” And to this, my friend who parties at Mardi Gras, rode donkeys on Santorini, and dogsledded with me- agreed.
If you live in the area, just ‘wiz’ on down the road to The Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary for the up-close adventure of a Friday night feeding. You’ll support a worthwhile cause and as Tony the Tiger would say, “It’s grrrrrreat.”
Telephone 904 757-3603