How did Caitlin Cimini rescue 300-plus animals?
Basically, it started as a whim.
And that same inclination is leading Cimini, 32, and her husband Len Cimini, 32, to build new facilities that will lead to the rescue of even more animals through Rancho Relaxo, the New Jersey non-profit she founded.
“I remember working non-stop and I didn’t even have $100 in my savings account. I lived on veggie Ramen noodles,” said Cimini, whose houses about 40 animals of different species at the ranch, situated on the border of Delaware. “I just couldn’t stop. I didn’t stop. I just filtered all the money into the rescue and surprisingly we have become self-sufficient as a rescue thanks to all of the good people that support us. It’s phenomenal. It’s strength through numbers.”
What she’s too modest to say is that those numbers started with one – her. The Jersey Shore-raised woman, who spent childhood summers taking horseback riding lessons, and later worked for animal rescues and wildlife rehabilitation projects has always loved animals. But aside from house pets, pot bellied pigs and a horse she owned and boarded as a young girl, she had no real experience with them.
That changed in 2010 when she felt compelled to rescue a wild Mustang that the U.S. government trucked from Nevada to be sold, probably to a slaughterhouse.
Any romance of such an adoption was quickly negated by the reality of training a wild horse while working full time.
“She was the ultimate test for me,” said Cimini. “I had broken fingers. She cracked my ribs. It was really intense. I will admit I regretted [the adoption] at first. I don’t think I fully understood how wild she was. I cried all the time. I felt so defeated because she was so difficult.”
But Cimini kept working with the horse she named Halona, which means “beautiful choice.” Halona is now the most affectionate animal on the property that houses chicken, sheep, burros and other species, said Cimini. And that’s quite a transformation when you consider the horse was traumatized when Cimini rescued her.
“Whenever a helicopter would fly over, she would freak out because that’s how they spot and capture wild horses,” she said. “It was really scary and it was just trauma. All trauma.”
The trauma has left Halona, but the hard work continues for the Ciminis who care for the animals on their ranch – and also rescue other animals that are placed elsewhere – as a two-person operation while holding down their full-time jobs. But despite that hard work, and pet allergies that can leave Caitlin nearly incapacitated, they forge on. They have a volunteer come to the ranch for a few hours each Saturday. Otherwise, they go it alone.
The Ciminis funnel every penny they receive back into the Rancho Relaxo, started in 2013. The couple’s can-do attitude led them to GoFundMe, where they raised money to expand the ranch with a 16-acre addition. Now the Ciminis just took out a personal loan to buy another property for further expansion. They plan to close on that property in May.
GoFundMe was so impressed with the Ciminis, they named Caitlin the second GoFundMe hero for April.
“Caitlin is doing incredible, selfless work with animals in need, and I’m thrilled she’s been chosen as our latest GoFundMe Hero,” Rob Solomon, GoFundMe CEO, told PEOPLE. “As a fellow animal lover, it’s been inspiring to see how Caitlin has used GoFundMe to further her mission of giving abandoned animals the second chance they deserve.”
Caitlin said she couldn’t stop crying when she found out about the GoFundMe recognition and saw donations to her project rise.
“It means more than I can ever say,” said Cimini, who said expenses include $4,000 each month just for feed. “I tell people that if you like what a non-profit does, give them $1. They have no idea how far $1 can go. We are so grateful for every penny we get.”