Nearly 700 cats were given a second chance in life through a joint effort of the ASPCA and an eclectic mix of animal-welfare groups and concerned individuals.
The Caboodle Ranch effort netted the largest number of rescued cats in ASPCA history: nearly 700 cats and two dogs were taken into protective custody from the ranch in northern Florida. From the first phases of this operation, the ASPCA was helped by the University of Florida, Sumter DART and local law enforcement.
By the time the effort reached the sheltering phrase, there were more than 40 response partners and more than 650 unique responders involved. The team included veterinarians, technicians, behaviorists and daily care workers, rotating through the operation over the course of seven months.
Once the cats were turned over to the ASPCA they were transferred to four Florida shelters that held adoption mega-events where hundreds of animals found homes.
"This was a truly amazing joint effort with many moving parts, but it worked for these cats," says Jessica Rushin of the ASPCA's Field Investigations Response team. "It really did take a small army from start to finish."
Rallying the troops
People in our field see animals in need and they want to help, Rushin points out. "When we began reaching out to organizations about this case, the response was overwhelming," she says. "They stepped up and filled the roles we needed to help these cats. We had no way of knowing that this case would take seven months. Even after the first push where the case was really out in the media and on everyone's radar, our partners were there with us caring for these cats."
When it came time to place the cats, the rescue team knew who was in the best position to find them great adoptive homes, and the ASPCA helped with mega-events to help Cat Depot, Jacksonville Humane Society, Humane Society of Pinellas County and Halifax Humane Society adopt out the cats.
"No organization alone has the capacity to do what needed to be done for these cats," Rushin says. It took hundreds of hours from medical teams, daily care teams, investigations, logistics, scheduling, finance and others. "Working together we were able to keep these complex facets of the operation running smoothly simultaneously. Without the help of other agencies, we would have struggled to keep it all afloat. Even looking at a single adoption event, you can see the collaboration between the host agency, sheltering, medical, legal and logistics."
Creating a collaborative vision
"It is so important to use people's time as effectively as possible, especially when people are volunteering their time," says Rushin. "The communication piece is huge as well. Talk about what your plan is and really integrate cooperating agencies into the planning process. They may have suggestions or resources that you weren't aware of. Communicating plans also reduces anxiety about participating. When people are looped in, they come ready to work with clear expectations."
Over communicate! Even if it seems excessive, include everyone who might have a role in the effort. If veterinarians don't understand what investigators need, for example, important case details may be missed.
Cooperation lets you do more with less
Large scale events require inter-agency cooperation because of the resources needed – but this kind of interplay can be seen on all levels. For example, in the TNR community such cooperation helps increase spay/neuter efforts; it can also be seen at work when rescue groups collaborate with municipal shelters to place at-risk animals.
Rush also urges compassion and self-care. "When you see animals suffering day in and day out or people who seemingly don't care about the fate of animals, there is always the potential for compassion fatigue," she says. "You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. This is true for everyone from responders in the field to law enforcement to shelter workers – and everyone in between."