Hundreds of cats rescued from what was supposed to be a cat sanctuary in Madison County are heading to Jacksonville.
Caboodle Ranch, about 30 miles west of Lake City, was raided by authorities on Monday after an undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals reported finding hundreds of neglected cats living in their own filth and disease.
"You walk through and you just see sick cats everywhere," said Tim Rickey of the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "The living environment for some of these cats was deplorable."
PETA's website described the ranch as "no-kill hell."
ASPCA, which called this the largest number of cats ever removed from a single location, stepped in to help move and shelter at least 300 animals. Many of them were covered with feces and bugs and suffering from infections.
"This is a very, very unusual case," said Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart. "This is not something we've ever had here."
Cats that survived are evidence in an animal cruelty investigation against the founder and owner of Caboodle Ranch, Craig Grant, a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach.
Investigators said Grant had no adoption program or any clear spay and neuter efforts to effectively manage the sanctuary's swelling population of cats.
ASPCA is trucking hundreds of the cats to a temporary shelter in Jacksonville, where the cats will receive medical treatment.
The group said it hopes many of the cats will be available for adoption, but it will take months before they are medically cleared.
"The goal is to see as many of these cats as possible curled up in somebody's lap a few months from now," Rickey said.
Grant has bonded out of jail, but is not allowed to return to the property until all the cats are removed and the investigation is complete.
"This is a crime scene, and that's the way it's being treated," Stewart said.