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?
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

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.

23 thoughts on “Ownership of Shelter Cats”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.


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