Pets Help Rehabilitate Inmates in These Amazing Foster Programs

Posted by Stacey Venzel
Modern Dog Magazine

People and animals are helping each other through prison foster and animal care programs.

A new fad is taking correction facilities by storm, changing the lives of animals and inmates in the process. From Washington to Colorado to Ohio and Florida, prison foster programs are sweeping the nation, creating relationships between pets and inmates that are as transformative for the people as they are for the animals.

Socialization is important for abandoned or stray pets seeking adoption from shelters. Cat foster programs, such as Kitten Connection with Purrfect Pals in Washington, match felines with felons.

But not just any inmate gets to welcome a pet into their life. Applicants must show signs of good behavior and hygiene as well as psychiatric stability so as not to endanger the animal.


However, even individuals with a mental illness who need to be isolated from other incarcerated fellows can apply to be a foster parent. The results of such an open-minded application process are impressive.

Prison staff across the U.S. report a change in the demeanor of even the most aggressive, table-hurling individuals. Inmates consciously practice their best behavior so that they have the opportunity to welcome a furry friend into their celled life.

A cat foster program in Lima, Ohio extends the foster parent's responsibilities a step further. Inmates are required to log their cat's behavior, from how well it is adapting to the litter box to how well it is interacting with people. In turn, this is helpful in determining the adoptability of the feline.

A Beautiful World
A Beautiful World

The documentary "Dogs on the Inside" tells the tale of prisoners at North Central Correctional Institution who get another outlook on life when they nurture abused and neglected dogs, part of the Don't Throw Us Away program.

But it isn't just cats and dogs changing inmate lives. Horses and other animals are offering second chances to prisoners, too. The Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP) was initiated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in an effort to contain the country's wild horses. The BLM needed a cheap but effective way to tame wild horses, making them adoptable. They turned to jail cells for help, with inspiring results.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management
U.S. Bureau of Land Management

At a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, many of the inmates have harsh histories as gang members or are guilty of heinous crimes. But even big, burly men show their soft spots when they see an animal in need.

Reporter Tim Hayes interviewed inmates at this facility, one of five in the country that participate in the WHIP program, and found that they were only tough guys on the surface. Horse foster parents told him they related to the fear in these wild horses. Like the inmates, being afraid led to an instinctual aggression to survive. Yet these horses were able to change, and so the men saw that just maybe they could, too.

These animal inmate programs run as far-reaching as the southernmost continental United States. All the way down in the Florida Keys sits the nation's only jailhouse petting zoo. The Monroe County Sheriff Animal Farm, located beneath the stilted detention center, is a rescue facility for unwanted and confiscated animals, not shying from exotics.

With more than 150 animals on the farm, numerous species are living out their lives in this tropical island chain, including tortoises, rabbits, pigs, llamas, skunks, alligators, even an emu and a sloth. The animal keepers are a collection of tattooed, orange-suited inmates that showcased their best behavior to be warranted this coveted service position over picking up roadside trash. The farm is even open to the community, open two days a month for visitors and hosting an annual Easter egg hunt on the farm.

Pets of all species and temperaments are in need of some TLC, but the animals in these prison inmate programs are offering a little TLC back to their foster parents. In the end, both animals and inmates are getting a second chance.

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