Tag Archives: dogsledding

The Friday Night Feeding of Lions and Tigers – No Bears

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



Colorado ~ Doggone Good Ride

Experience the Rush of a Mush in beautiful Colorado

By Debi Lander

Krabloonik Kennels
Krabloonik Kennels

Welcoming howls start a barking chain that reverberates through the valley and tickles my spine. Mushers- burly dogsled trainers and drivers-manipulate dog legs through openings in a harnesses; their motions reminiscent of children dressing Barbie dolls. Tugging here, repositioning a strap there, then straightening out the lines. As preparations continue, blankets cocoon riders, like babies swaddled into bunting.

Hike,” shouts John Holly and the team proceeds, inching forward. Holly, our charismatic musher, stands on the back of the platform controlling the canines with the tone and intensity of his voice.

Lez Go

“Lez go, lez go,” he slurs and the pack picks up speed.

I’m squished against the back of a hickory dogsled at Krabloonik Kennels, tucked in the mountains of Snowmass, Colorado, near Aspen. My companion, Chris, sits between my outstretched legs, practically on top of me. No, we’re not carrying medicine to save a town, like the Disney movie, Balto, or racing in the Iditarod. We’re simply experiencing the ancient form of transportation that helped sustain the Inuit population.

Most often, ten to twelve mixed-breed Huskies run two across, in harnesses tethered to a central tug line. Usually a male and female work side by side, however, our group contains only nine. Pal, the wheel dog, controls the rear, muscling the weight of two. The pairs closest to the sled pull the hardest, while the lead duo master the driver’s commands. The middle of the pack members, I’m told, include good followers or dogs-in-training.

A sled, two adult passengers and the driver typically weigh-in at 550 pounds. So, according to my calculations, each dog pulls approximately 50- 60 pounds, close to their own weight, over the ten mile journey. Hardcore doggies!

Starting out
Starting Out

We skim over a crest and cross a catwalk, my heart racing as I peer over the trail’s steep edge. Then, we plod on through Brush Creek Valley, darting through flakes the size of silver dollars that coat our oversized parkas, mukluk boots and ski goggles.

“Haw Betty,” Holly calls, requesting a turn to the left. The well-trained team moves in unison, proceeding round a bend. Chris and I sense a familiar and unpleasant odor- fresh dog poop. Alonzo is letting go as he runs along. We let go with giggles.

Onward, the sled passes rushing streams and abandoned ranches; only specks of hunter green pine and spruce peeking through. We’re in the white world of Narnia. Being a Floridian, I’m enthralled with the shimmery frosting on the slender branches of the aspen trees.

About five miles into our ride, the group slows to the command “whoa.” Dan Mac Eachen, Krabloonik’s owner, explains, “The dogs would run until they drop without a forced break. They’re pack animals exhilarated by their daily outing.”

Coated with snow
Coated with Snow

Hopping off the back of the sled, Holly approaches us with a command, “Sit,” and Chris and I dare not move an inch. Then he asks for my camera, “Smile,” and clicks our picture entombed in the winter fantasyland. Just who’s trained here?

We scramble out of the sled and are encouraged to pet the panting animals. Affectionate Glue, at the front of the line, licks my face, as I stroke his back. “Good doggy,” I tell him. According to Dan, lead dogs are capable of working all positions, but, by instinct, are born leaders. And contrary to common beliefs, leads are not the biggest, strongest or meanest. Glue, in fact, is the smallest of the team.

While sled dogs make excellent pets, these fellas are not domesticated and certainly not housebroken. Each of the 250 in the extended family has their own little hut with a twelve foot chain, allowing a limited roam. Mushers clean all the kennels and maintain their team.

Our team

Dan has been breeding hybrids for Krabloonik from three original sled dog types: Malamute, Eskimo and Siberian, often referred to as Huskies. He mates them with Pointers, dogs with shorter hair. The mixed breeds seem to manage the Colorado summer better than Alaskan Huskies, who over-heat.

Our tail waggers wait impatiently as we cram back into the sled. They turn their heads toward the musher, begging the command “hike” to start the return journey. We’re off, then suddenly the sled stops, rounding a corner. Seems to be time for a synchronized leg lift -a team pee into the now amber snow bank. “Do they always behave like this?” I ask.

“Pretty much,” says our driver laughing again, “a favorite spot.”

As we approach home, enthusiastic yelping returns; the call of the wild from the waiting family greeters.

“Have you seen the newest members?” Holly asks. Nellie has three young puppies that meander at will, charming guests. All newbies hang free until serious training begins around 18 months.

Debi & Pup
Debi & Pup

I nab a pup with cobalt eyes and am smitten; but then, I’ve always been a sucker for puppies and babies. I savor his distinctive puppy breath, full of delicious new life. Doggone it, I hate that my ride and visit are over.

This article was featured in The BaseCamp Colorado, Basecamp Publishing, Volume 2, Number 8 & also online at BaseCampColorado.com. Read more about the Krabloonik and Aspen at Grandparents.com.

If you go:

Krabloonik Kennels and Restaurant, Snowmass, Colorado, http://www.krabloonik.com/

Winter half-day dog sled rides include a three course gourmet lunch in Krabloonik’s rustic log cabin restaurant. Cost per adult is $265. Summer kennel tours affordably priced at $6.00.

Snowmass Village, a 25-square-mile mountain town, neighbors historic Aspen, CO. Year round activities abound in thee heart of the Elk Mountains and the Maroon Bells Wilderness area, formerly hunted and fished by the Ute Indians.


Winter features 147 miles of downhill ski trails, 43 miles of Nordic cross-country terrain, an outstanding ski school and numerous family activities. Lift tickets and free shuttles connect Snowmass with Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands ski areas.

Summer highlights include music and movie festivals, rodeos, horseback riding, hiking and biking.