Ownership of Shelter Cats

Caveat: I am not siding with any party. This is written from a neutral standpoint; an attempt to find the truth behind the anger and distress. I always support the cat and look for ways to improve the lives of cats. This is our responsibility. We need to be hard on ourselves and examine our actions and motives. That includes me.

As an aside, I have just visited the Caboodle Ranch website and I am shocked at the legal and emotional mess this has become while the cats suffer. It is a typical case of human messing up the lives of cats through mismanagement.

Ruth AKA Kattaddorra gave me the idea for this post. There are a lot of comments on the Hate Crimes and Caboodle Ranch (CR) article by Victoria. Understandably, there is a lot of passion and anger and polarised viewpoints. I noticed that a number of people commenting had personally placed their cats at Caboodle Ranch. They were distressed that their cats had not been treated as well as they had expected. Some (Natasha is the classic example) were extremely angry and upset. They felt they had been conned by Craig the former owner of Caboodle Ranch (it is now closed but the website is still running).

Caboodle Ranch

Caboodle Ranch – looks like cat utopia but was it?

Once a person hands over their cat to a cat rescue organisation or shelter, they hand over “ownership” (title) in a legal sense to the owners of the shelter.

At the moment of handover it would seem to me that they relinquish all rights and responsibilities in the cat . Accordingly, from a legal standpoint they have limited rights to complain about the new owner. They are entitled to comment and criticize but they can only do that as an outsider not as someone with a personal stake in the shelter unless there has been misrepresentation (see below). From a legal standpoint when a person sells a car they don’t check on the car to make sure it is maintained properly or driven properly. The law treats cars and cats the same way.

The person who hands over a cat has made a decision to give up his/her cats. The person who hands over a feral cat to a cat shelter is in a different position, I believe. The cat is probably never in the ownership of the person who hands the feral cat over. However, the cat shelter does own and possess the feral cat and can do as they please with the cat in the eyes of the law (subject to animal welfare law obligations, which is criminal law). People who hand over cats to shelters need to be aware of that.

The people who handed over their cats to Caboodle Ranch and who are angry or disappointed at the treatment of their cats should also be a little bit self-critical for making an unfortunate mistake. They might feel conned but ultimately the burden of the ensuing problem should be shared by both parties to the arrangement.

A lot of the anger understandably comes from people who had a close connection with their cats and handed them over only to find that their cats were allegedly neglected. Under the circumstances where a cat is a true family member, there must be a great burden on the cat’s owner to make sure the new owner is an excellent caretaker. It is more difficult therefore for these people to claim they were conned by CR. If they had made a proper inspection of their own they might have decided that the place wasn’t suitable. Did they make a proper inspection?

Important: I am not siding with CR I am just looking at this coldly as an outsider seeking the truth.

There is an argument that CR misrepresented how they operated. In other words they reassured people that all was well when it wasn’t and people acted on that. I think you have to look at this from a legal perspective too. The legal concept of misrepresentation may apply in this case. It is what is called a tort – a civil wrong. It may be difficult to prove misrepresentation took place. The problem, as I see it, with making a claim under misrepresentation is the damages, the amount of compensation and type of compensation. In the eyes of the law, a moggie cat is worth about $30. The anguish and distress suffered by people who handed over their cats to CR goes well beyond that level of compensation and I don’t think you can claim compensation for distress. You can’t compensate adequately it seems to me. I don’t think that personal civil actions in contract or tort would be successful even if the person won the case.

transfer of ownership form on handing animal over to shelter

Thumbnail of ownership transfer form

There are other interesting aspects to this. Can a person who handed their cat to Caboodle Ranch sue Caboodle Ranch in contract if subsequently their cat dies through illness or becomes ill as a result of alleged neglect by CR? The answer would be found in the contract between the parties (person handing over cat and CR). Was there a contract? I would be pleased to hear from someone on that. If there is no contract it would be more difficult to sue successfully and in any case would the compensation be adequate? If there was a contract what did it say? The person handing over their cats to CR are not obliged to agree the terms of the contract. They could have amended it for example.

When cat breeders sell their purebred cats they nearly always have a contract that places obligations on the new owner (the purchaser of the cat) which could result in the contract being avoided (the cat goes back to the breeder). That sort of contract could or should have been in place with respect to CR.

As a final thought (if anyone got this far!), there is no reason why a person handing over their cat to a privately run cat shelter cannot produce their own contract and insist that the cat shelter owner signs it before handing over their cat(s). If the shelter owner refuses to be bound by the terms of the contract it would be a good indication that the shelter was unsuitable.

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Ownership of Shelter Cats — 23 Comments

  1. A very well thought out and logical article Michael.
    I would think any Shelter which has someone relinquish an animal to them would get the ‘previous owner’ to sign a relinquishment form. It’s a change of ‘ownership’ in fact, although I personally find it sad that cats are owned like possessions and not looked upon as part of the family for life once they are taken in by that family.
    Doing USA Shelter studies for statistics on the number of declawed cats in them shocked me, as the pathetic excuses used to dump cats in them made it blatantly obvious that most were just unwanted or inconvenient to have around.
    Very few genuine reasons such as the death, severe disablement or homelessness of the cat’s caretaker cropped up.
    Most USA Shelters are overcrowded and cats, once people’s supposedly ‘beloved pets’ are being killed in some to make room for more dumped there by more uncaring people who must surely realise there’s not much chance of the cat being adopted out, surely that can’t be right!

    • Thanks Ruth and, yes, as I said in this article the general profile of the person who relinquishes is someone who needs educating about cats and realistic expectations. Only the right people should keep cats.

  2. One thing to keep in mind was that Craig Grant intentionally hid sick cats and cleaned things up when he knew people were coming to the ranch. That is why visits were by appointment only. This was a fraudulent action intended to dupe unsuspecting people into believing this was a good place to bring their cats.

  3. Michael, the potential fraud is much deeper than the neglect of the cats.

    Donations were solicited on the basis of false and misleading statements about:
    * safety of the cats
    * health of the cats
    * isolation of infectious cats
    * that cats were vaccinated
    * spaying and neutering of the cats
    * the size of Caboodle Ranch
    * the security of the fencing
    * the “infirmary” which was funded but never built
    * how donations were used (e.g., “100% for the cats”)
    * that Craig knew how many cats were at the Ranch

    The pattern of deception characterized Caboodle Ranch’s actions for years, and in my opinion, and if the prosecutors choose to pursue charity fraud charges against the management of Caboodle Ranch, the penalties are severe.

    That’s the criminal prosecution. As you pointed out, there’s also the civil case: a class action lawsuit is forming against Caboodle Ranch. (Details at http://caboodleranch.net/?page_id=181 )

    Caboodle Ranch’s legal troubles have just begun.

    As far as producing an individual contract with a shelter, I can’t imagine any shelter or sanctuary accepting one. They would need to have an attorney look over any contract before signing. It could open the way to unreasonable lawsuits. And the surrender of the cat would need to be postponed until the contract could be approved and signed.

    Though I approve of the sentiment, this doesn’t seem feasible for either the cash-strapped nonprofit organization or for an owner surrendering an animal under dire circumstances.

    On a side note: you said the Hate Crimes article was penned by Elisa? The author claimed to be a semi-anonymous retired psychiatrist in Washington, DC named Victoria, who appeared out of the blue on this site to pen that article.

    I was skeptical of the identify of the author, given her lack of understanding about the nature of true hate crimes and denial of the psychological ramifications of hoarding… but now your slip makes me doubly suspicious.

    • Thanks for the input. I made a mistake assigning ELisa’s name to the article. I apologise. I get very tired managing the site.

      You mention a string of illegalities. Without defending CR are these allegations or findings of fact after a court hearing? As to contracts, I would have thought a contract between the parties was essential. If CR didn’t have one that is a bad sign and a sign of mismanagement. My suggestion that the client produces a contract would be exceptional I agree but it it about time people stepped out of their ruts and routines and thought about these things. Someone should produce a contract.

      An inquiry could be made (by the person relinquishing) on the phone and the contract emailed ahead. If that had happened a lot of the pain would have been avoided and it would have forced CR to adopt a higher standard. If a series of clients had insisted on a contract CR would have created one. It is about the customer improving the standards of the provider through making reasonable demands.

      Are you saying no shelters in the USA produce a contract of some form? For example, a relinquishment note.

      • CR has not had formal charges filed yet, although complaints have been filed with state and federal authorities. Indications are that investigations are in progress, but investigations of financial crimes may take months or even years.

        The initial charge of Scheming to Defraud was abandoned by the prosecutor, but that could be a reflection of a more intensive investigation into the finances of Caboodle Ranch. Additional charges may also be filed during the felony animal cruelty trial against Craig Grant and his co-defendant.

        Regarding shelter contracts, yes, many reputable shelters use contracts, but these are uniform, standardized contracts that are the same for every surrender. You’re talking about having potential surrenders phone in a new contract, which would need to be analyzed by an attorney at great cost to the shelter.

        And every surrender contract I’ve seen is strictly for the protection of the shelter — not the surrendering owner.

        The challenge is not just drawing up a standardized contract, but convincing the shelter to accept additional legal liability and the potential for lawsuits. If a dog contracts kennel cough, the owner could have standing to sue the shelter, even if the dog was exposed before it ever entered the shelter, even if it was “Patient Zero” that infected other animals in the shelter — animals whose owners might then have grounds to sue.

        A contract would have to be very, very carefully drafted to avoid abuse, and I simply cannot picture any shelter exposing themselves to that kind of legal liability with no additional benefit to their organization. “Sure, we’ll take in the animal you’re giving up. Please sign this document that gives you the right to sue us if you don’t like how the animal you surrendered is being treated.”

        That’s going to be a tough sell.

      • Micheal,
        There was a contract between the owner who surrendered the cat and the sanctuary that took in the cat or cats, i.e. Caboodle Ranch.
        Not all contracts have to be in writing and verbal contracts are enforcable in a court of law. Caboodle Ranch made promises that if you surrendered your cat to CR, they would provide regular vet and flea treatment, food, water, and shelter and a safe environment for the cat or cats to live out their lives in happiness. Caboodle Ranch did not keep their end of the verbal contract, so there is a breach of contract. Also due to the nature of the breach of contract, there is a claim against those who ran Caboodle Ranch personally that they can be sued for INTENTIONAL infliction of emtional distress. The Class action attorney already looked into it and it is a legit law suit.

        • Hi Elise, I agree there is a verbal contract but a written one is far better. It is much harder to sue successfully on verbal and implied terms of a contract. More importantly a well drafted written contract reminds the contracting parties to perform their obligations under it. It helps to prevent breaches of contract. Also shelters should have a proper contract as it is a more professional way of going about business. It need not be complicated. A good contract helps raise standards and reduces complaints etc. That is my point. But thanks for the comment.

  4. The only good place for cats is at home with the people who took responsibility for their welfare when they took the cat into their family and the only good cat caretakers are the ones who do just that.
    Sadly in the case of the people with a genuine reason for relinquishing their cat, the overcrowding of the CR Shelter because of cats dumped there without good reason, was bound to lead to problems.
    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the CR case it doesn’t alter the fact that the hundreds of people who all surely hadn’t a good reason to dump their cats caused that overcrowding and that is what this article is about.
    It’s what the feral problem is about too, poor cat care and convenience relinquishment or turning out of the cat to fend for himself by irresponsible people and it’s the cats who suffer every time.

    • Hold on there.

      A privately owned and operated “sanctuary” is under no obligation to accept a surrendered animal; to the contrary, they have an obligation to take in ONLY the number of animals that they have the resources to properly care for.

      Any breach of that responsibility is the fault of the sanctuary owner, not the person surrendering the animal — especially when the sanctuary owner represents that they will provide a safe and secure environment for the animal.

      • I agree that a private sanctuary owner is under no obligation to accept a cat but in the case of CR it was a large open site with no apparent limits. I suspect offering a cat to CR would result in a yes.

        • There is much more to running a sanctuary than just turning cats loose in the woods with a bowl of food. As such, there will ALWAYS be limits to the number of cats that can be cared for.

          CR took in cats without limit, even though they were unable to care for the cats already suffering under their negligent care.

          Resources weren’t a problem. Caboodle Ranch was sitting on more than $80,000 in unused donations at the end of 2010, according to their tax return. At that same time, cats were allowed to suffer and die from lack of veterinary treatment.

          Personnel shouldn’t have been a problem. Volunteers were falling all over themselves to help out. But Craig and Nanette refused to allow it because reports of the deaths and abuse of cats were getting out to the public.

          In both cases, the dishonesty of Caboodle Ranch and its operators put extreme limits on the number of cats they could reasonably care for. They repeatedly lied to cover up that fact, so they could continue to take in cats — and donation fees.

  5. Anyone reading Elisa’s articles can see the difference between the writing style of her and Victoria.
    Sometimes people do appear out of the blue here and disappear when they’ve been subject to unpleasant comments and who can blame them for that!

    • If Elisa was writing an article using an alias, then she may attempt to alter her writing style as well. I do wonder who wrote the original article, as the person claims to be a retired psychiatrist, and yet she does not seem to comprehend the nature of hate crimes.

    • I’m not very familiar with Elisa’s writing, and wasn’t implying that she was behind the “Hate Crimes” article. I was merely responding to Michael’s attribution of the article to someone other than “Victoria”.

      If comments are mentally unstable or abusive, the moderator should remove them. Civil discourse isn’t an unreasonable expectation.

      But if the comments are merely critical of errors in the article, well, the author had better develop a thicker skin.

      The “Hate Crimes” article was simply awful: poorly reasoned, with careless research, obvious bias, and glaring errors. The anonymous author makes an attempt to justify her stance by claiming to be a retired psychiatrist, a claim which I am extremely skeptical of given the dreadfully ignorant handling of the subject.

      Sorry, but I smell a fake. I don’t know who “Victoria” is, but if she’s got an advanced degree, I’ll eat my shoe.

      • Sometimes people use a pseudonym to remain anonymous. Many well known authors use pseudonyms and on the internet it is probably wise because there is a lot of trolling bordering on harassment!

        • And some criminals use pseudonyms to conceal their background, and some shills use pseudonyms to conceal their conflict of interest.

          Others use pseudonyms to evade accountability or to enable them to make false claims about their credentials.

          Anonymity is a double-edged sword. Those who hide behind a false persona have no right to claim authority on the basis of their credentials, especially when there is no way to verify their claims.

          I should know. I’m a world-famous astronaut who won the Nobel Prize for my pioneering work on the sociopolitical ramifications of anonymous interaction. And that trumps Victoria’s medical degree.

          …Ah, but that’s a fiction, isn’t it? And you can tell that because I’m using my real identity instead of hiding behind a sock puppet. I take responsibility for my words and actions.

          That’s accountability. It’s what Victoria abandoned when she made veiled accusations through a fake identity, under color of her supposed psychiatric credentials.

          • I take your point and accept what you say but I think we should keep things in perspective. Nothing has come of it. The article stimulated a interesting dialogue in comments so we have to rate the article a success and it seems it is almost irrelevant who wrote it.

    • Contract can be verbal and implied but a written one is far better as it helps prevent bad behavior and avoids uncertainty.

  6. I just went over and looked at the Hate Crimes article. For someone who claims not to be a professional writer I believe she’s a better writer than I am. My final Caboodle Ranch article was last month before we were investigated. My daugher threatened to leave home if I wrote any more about Caboodle so I won’t even be covering the trial.

  7. I keep seeing that phrase “irresponsible people who dumped their cats”. I truly believe some these people cared enough to take their cats somewhere where they believed they would be cared for, no, where they were promised these cats would be cared for. To be truly irresponsible would be to dump your cat along side of the highway, at that grocery store parking lot where you’ve seen a feral colony, to abandon them when you lose your house or move away, etc.

    • Lisa, I think you are talking about degrees of irresponsibility. To dump a cat at the road side is plain animal cruelty. It is a crime it would seem to me and the height of irresponsibility regarding cat caretaking. Whereas if a person, to suit themselves (i.e. for no good reason), gives up their cat at a shelter then that is also irresponsible behavior but to a lesser degree. Thanks for commenting.

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