Jacksonville non-profit works to save the lives of unexpected animals

By Lauren Willins and Kevin Kevin Beaugrand

If you’re not careful, you might just miss it.

Located on Starratt Road, the Catty Shack Ranch is hidden between residential areas. Most people wouldn’t think there would be tigers and lions roaming around in their neighborhood.

The Catty Shack is a non-profit in Jacksonville that takes in wild animals from private owners or facilities that can no longer provide for them.

Gail Gibson, a volunteer at the Catty Shack, enjoys spending her time there.

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“We do whatever’s needed around here,” said Gibson. “There’s tours, field trips, retail, etc. Somebody will jump in.”

The Catty Shack is run primarily by volunteers, meaning that without the love and care of regular citizens, the big cats might be out of a home.

The volunteers’ main goal is to educate visitors on their wild residents. Visitors are taken on a one hour tour around the enclosures and learn about each animal. Eating habits and relationship status among the residents are often discussed.

One important event that the visitors get to see is the enrichment of the enclosures.

According to Christine Heaton, a tour guide at the ranch, enrichment is putting something different into the habitats for the animals to experience.

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“Around Christmas, we give them presents and Christmas trees,” said Heaton. “We’re currently giving them pumpkins.”

The residents of the Catty Shack include tigers, lions, leopards, foxes, bobcats and coatimundi. Their enclosures are separated from the public by high fences, allowing both humans and animals to get up close and personal with each other.

According to Heaton, that might not what they expected.

“Spiderman the tiger is notorious for scent marking residents,” said Heaton.

Visitors are allowed to get close to the residents so that they can see the beauty of these creatures. Volunteers also hope that visitors might be interested in adopting one of the residents.

Gibson herself has adopted two of the animals.

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“I have adopted Skywalker, a 21-year-old leopard, and Nero, a 14-year-old tiger,” said Gibson. “They are my favorite residents, as they come up to the enclosure and recognize the humans primarily by scent.”

There are daily tours available as well as night feedings, where visitors get to watch volunteers feed the residents pieces of meat. All proceeds go towards ensuring the residents live in luxury.

To find out more information about the Catty Shack Ranch, visit https://cattyshack.org/.