Can You Have A Cat In Prison?

Cats in Prison! That’s right, there are cats in prison! The crimes they commit are simply being unwanted. However; the prison sentence for the kitty is really a life-saving effort on behalf of the furry four-legged felines. It is reported that well over one million cats are euthanized every year due to overcrowding in animal shelters across the country.

So, why send the cats to a prison? As it turns out, saving the life of an unwanted cat can change the life of a convict.

Totally by accident, in 1975, a patient at an Ohio mental hospital found an injured bird. Hospital staff noticed the behavior changes in patients that were helping rehabilitate the injured bird. This is what sparked the great idea for an inmate animal rehabilitation program.

The program has grown into what it is today because of the success it has shown in aiding to reform inmates during their incarceration. Public interest in the program has increased due to reality television shows that journal the lives of the animal and the inmate they are assigned to.

Currently, most states have an animal rehabilitation program within their prison system; most are geared toward dog training. The success of inmate dog training programs has encouraged some prisons to add inmate cat adoptions.

There are requirements

Inmates that wish to participate in the cat adoption program have rules and guidelines that must be followed before they are approved to adopt a cat or kitten from an animal shelter. Once the inmate is approved to adopt a cat they still have rules to adhere to or they jeopardize the ability to continue in the cat adoption program.

If an inmate loses the right to be in the program, they have to forfeit their beloved cat. It has been reported that inmates being removed from the program is very uncommon.

The participating inmate is solely responsible for everything their pet cat will ever need. The inmate is required to earn an income through prison work programs.  The money they make is used to buy what their pet needs.  The inmate must provide food and cat litter. They have to get their pet cat spayed or neutered and they must maintain routine veterinarian care. Inmates build cat houses, make toys and provide treats for their pets.

The unlikely cellmates create an incredible bond.  Hardened convicts say they have been softened and changed for the better by the experience with their adopted cat. Some participants say that caring for their pets gives them something they never had before; unconditional love. The responsibility of caring for something other than their own needs is a road not traveled by many inmates. The opportunity to care for their cat is often the first time many of the participants experience the feeling of giving, not taking.

Inmates report their stress levels are greatly reduced after becoming cat owners. They have a feeling of pride and they learn to build a level of trust that may be new to them. Some inmates claim to experience compassion for the first time. Inmates show affection for their cat, a feeling that many haven’t felt for a long time, if ever.

Inmates also rely on each other to care for the other person’s pet from time to time. An interaction between inmates arranging pet-sitting care for their cat can create a sense of peace and trust in an environment where very little of that usually exists. The calmness of the cats’ presence along with the inmates’ conscious effort to maintain good behavior has prison officials singing the praises of the program.

Some prison cat adoption programs are in place to rehabilitate a distrusting or injured cat into a loving and healthy pet.  The rehabilitated prison cat can be adopted through an animal shelter.  If a cat is not adopted, it will live out its life in prison being loved and protected by the trusted inmate. In cases where the inmate is released, they can take their cat with them when they leave prison.

The program has grown tremendously since the original idea started with an injured bird all those years ago. The continued success of the program is credited with more prisons getting involved including an animal shelter in Louisiana being run by inmates.

Filling a need

Animal shelters across the country are getting much-needed help with an overflow of unwanted cats. The lucky cats are saved from euthanasia and get to spend the rest of their lives happy. The inmates learn the value of caring for something other than themselves. Everyone within the prison walls agrees that the cats calming presence somehow soothe the whole atmosphere of the prison.

Fear of losing their beloved cat keeps the inmate on their best behavior, a cycle that repeats itself over and over again.   The inmates, guards and other prison staff appreciate the more relaxed and peaceful setting.

Some people believe inmates should not be allowed the luxury of caring for animals. But the fact is no matter how much people are encouraged to be responsible pet owners, animal shelters still get overwhelmed with cats. Scores of cats are put down each year due to overpopulation. Is it so bad that an incarcerated person learns some valuable life lessons from caring for a cat that no one else wanted? Is it so bad that a previously unwanted cat can teach a felon how to be a better person?

The rules and the process of the inmate animal rehabilitation program vary from each prison. The program is altered to fit the needs of the individual participating facility. However, positive inmate behavior is the primary requirement for everyone.

The people who support the program are deeply encouraged by all the good things that are happening.  Cats have been saved from certain death and the inmates caring for them happen to find a new outlook on life.  The continuation and expansion of the program across the country is a signal that it is producing positive changes that everyone can agree on.


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