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Cat Defender

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Three-Legged, Bobtailed Cat Named Opie Melts the Hearts of the Hardened Criminals at a Rural Tennessee Prison

"One small cat changes coming home to an empty house into coming home."
-- Pam Brown

Any cat capable of turning the hard hearts of convicted murderers and thieves to mush has to be one special feline. One-year-old, three-legged, bobtailed Opie (See photo above) is just such a cat.

Born feral, little Opie lost his right hind leg when he run over by a motorist. Bruce Roberts found him, took him to the vet, paid his medical bill, and brought him to live at Turney Center Industrial Prison and Farm in Only, Tennessee where he, a civilian, manages the laundry room.

Surrounded by razor wire, Turney is a fifty-five acre medium-security prison situated in the rolling hills of rural Hickman County in the western part of the state. The facility is home to one-thousand-ninety-seven inmates, a few of which are convicted murderers. Since Only has a mere twelve-hundred residents, that makes Turney a prime example of the so-called prison industrial complex.

It is not known if it was love and first sight between Opie and the eleven convicts who labor Monday through Friday in the laundry room, but that is undeniably the case now. "Opie is like us, missing something," an unidentified inmate told The Tennessean on October 20th. (See "Three-Legged Cat Brings Companionship to Prisoners.")

Named after the fictional Opie Taylor from the old Andy Griffith Show, the cat was at first frightened by the loud noises made by the washers and dryers. That was when Kenneth "Ham" Parham, a lifer, and the other inmates stepped in to hold and comfort him.

Now, Opie has Ham fetching him tuna from the prison's commissary and making him toys out of old rags. The due have in fact become big buddies. (See photo above on the right.) "The good thing about Opie is Opie doesn't care what I done (sic) wrong. Opie just cares that I'm here with the tuna," Ham, who has been at Turney for twenty-three-years, told The Tennessean.

"He don't talk back, and he don't tell on you. When the boss man first brought Opie here, Opie would hide. Now, Opie can't wait until we get here in the mornings. Opie, well, Opie, he's one special cat. He keeps us cool."

Of course, having only three legs is difficult but other cats have lost limbs, usually to illegal leghold traps, and gone on to live relatively long lives. (See Cat Defender posts of February 9, 2006 and August 18, 2005 entitled, respectively, "Newspaper Cat Named Tripod is Killed Off by Journalists He Befriended in Vermont" and "Brave Orange Tabby Cat Dubbed Hopalong Cassidy Loses Limb to Leghold Trap in British Columbia.")

For now, Opie has a warm, safe place to live and plenty of food and love. He also has warm dryers to sit on and warm clothing to wallow in to his little heart's content. Ever once in a while he helps inmates such as Jeremy Ginn (See photo below) fold clothes.

Since the laundry only operates weekdays, Opie is left to his own devices on weekends. Before they return to their cells at the close of work on Fridays, Ham and the other inmates make sure that he has plenty of food and water to see him through the long weekend.

The arrangement has worked out real well for all concerned. Opie has a home and the inmates have a shining ray of sunshine in their otherwise dreary lives. Inmate Chuck Rose perhaps summed up the situation best when he said, "Opie, he's a piece of home."

It thus appears that Pam Brown was on the money when she said, "One small cat changes coming home to an empty house into coming home."

Photos: Shelley Mays of The Tennessean.