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Cat Defender

Exposing the Lies and Crimes of Bird Advocates, Wildlife Biologists, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Exterminators, Vivisectors, the Scientific Community, Fur Traffickers, Cloners, Breeders, Designer Pet Purveyors, Hoarders, Motorists, the United States Military, and Other Ailurophobes

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Vermont Prison Is Giving Its Felines the Boot Despite Opposition from Its Female Inmates

"Jail is the only home they know."
-- Sue Skaskiw

The Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor, Vermont (See photo above) has a new warden and she does not like cats. Consequently, the cats, whose ancestors have called the women's prison home for more than twenty years, are being given the bum's rush.

About a month ago prison officials started trapping the cats in order to sterilize and vaccinate them as a prelude to finding new homes for them. So far, only six of them have been adopted and it is unclear what the prison has planned for those that remain. Local animal rights activists should make sure that they are not harmed in any fashion.

"It's not a physical plant that is conducive to a pet program," warden Anita Carbonell (See photo below) told the Boston Globe on January 28th. (See "Paroled: Prison Cats Have to Go, Superintendent Says.") "I know a lot of the inmates consider them pets, but they aren't really."

Although the decision to give them the boot is not popular with the inmates, prison guard Mark McGuire is, quite naturally, defending his boss. "The view from the inmates is that we're slightly less than monsters," he confessed to the Globe. "They see the benefits, they see the therapeutic part of the animals, but they don't see the cost or they don't ever see what happens when things go wrong."

That is hardly the case. First of all, the seventeen-acre facility has twenty-two buildings and therefore more than enough room to accommodate the cats. Secondly, the inmates pay for their upkeep out of the slave wages that they are paid by the prison for performing menial jobs.

Thirdly, the cats create few if any problems. Once in a while one of them will scratch an inmate or a staffer but that is usually their own fault because cats rarely attack unless they are either cornered or handled in a rough manner. Besides, as Cervantes said a long time ago: "Those who play with cats must expect to be scratched."

Despite the lies of prison officials, most of the complaints stem from inmates and staff who are either allergic to cats or ailurophobes. In one particularly hideous example of animal cruelty, an inmate recently used a cigarette lighter in order to set a cat on fire. It has since recovered, thankfully, and is now living with a staff member. It is not known, however, if its attacker was penalized for this barbaric crime.

Overall, the cats' presence has had an overwhelmingly beneficial impact on the inmates. They provide them with nonjudgmental companionship and help to brighten up their otherwise dreary surroundings.

Caring for them "teaches empathy, teaches responsibility, teaches compassion and it's a great educational tool," Sue Skaskiw of the Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society told the Globe. "These women have taken to these animals. To take them away is unnecessary and insensitive to their situation."

Moreover, it is hard on the cats. "Jail is the only home they know," Skaskiw added.

Inmate Susan Margiotti is a firm believer in the therapeutic value of the cats. "When I was depressed or something I'd go out and spend time with them. I could go outside and yell to the cats and they'd come running to me, just like a dog," she confided to the Globe.

The cats also provide the prison with invaluable service as unpaid rodent exterminators. Once they are removed, the taxpayers will be forced to ante up for a commercial service to do what the cats did gratis.

Unlike the Windsor facility, numerous prisons around the country have found having cats on the grounds to be a positive experience. (See photo below of a fenced-in cat at an unidentified facility.) For example, both the Solano County Sheriff's Claybank Sentenced Detention Center west of San Francisco and the Blaine Street Jail in Santa Cruz operate highly successful programs whereby female inmates serve as surrogate mothers for feral kittens. (See Cat Defender post of October 27, 2005 entitled "Inmates at Women's Prisons in California Save Lives by Fostering Feral Kittens.")

At Turney Center Industrial Prison and Farm in rural Only, Tennessee, a handicapped cat named Opie has become an indispensable part of the daily lives of the inmates who toil in the laundry. (See Cat Defender post of November 2, 2006 entitled "Three-Legged, Bobtailed Cat Named Opie Melts the Hearts of Hardened Criminals at Rural Tennessee Prison.")

The inmates, staff, and felines at Avenal State Prison in California had a constructive working relationship until, like in Windsor, a new warden irrationally decided to get rid of the cats. (See Cat Defender post of September 29, 2006 entitled "Avenal State Prison Reverts to Its Old Ailurophobic Ways by Scrapping TNR Program and Cutting Off Cats' Food Supply.")

While not necessarily overly enthusiastic about their presence on the grounds, officials at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville nonetheless allow inmates to care for around fifteen cats.

Although they earn only a paltry eighty cents per day for their labors, the prisoners nonetheless pool their limited resources in order to make sure that the cats are fed every day and receive medical care when they need it. Perhaps more significantly, since surrounding Lyon County does not have an animal shelter the inmates provide the only organized care that the area's homeless felines ever receive.

In addition to caring for the cats' daily needs, the inmates also operate an ad hoc adoption service that encourages family members, staff, and parolees to adopt cats. Staffer Kelly Oliver, who adopted a female cat, is ecstatic about the new addition to her home. "It's great. I love her," she told the Houston Chronicle on November 25, 2006. (See "Kentucky Prison Has Some 'Lifers' Serving Nine of Them.")

The cats' wholesome impact on the inmates has not been lost on assistant warden Nancy Doom. "You can see that compassion and respect for a living being because they have something to take care of," she related. "That's their child. That is their baby."

Inmate Clayton Cawood symbolizes just how much the cats have come to mean to him and his fellow prisoners when he told the Chronicle, "Some guys, every minute they're out in the yard, they're playing with a cat. They'll miss meals because they're playing with a cat." For example, a cat named Jeepy has become fond of perching atop inmate Ricky Fulcher's shoulders. (See photo below.)

Some long-term inmates even care for several generations of cats. For instance, Floyd Cook is now caring for a five-year-old cat Buzz just as he did for the cat's father and grandfather. "Before he (Buzz) gets too old, I'll probably have one of his sons, too," he predicted.

Although a prison is far from being an ideal home for a cat, it is certainly better than either extermination or confinement in a cage at a shelter. The cats also have an undeniable humanizing effect on both the inmates and their gaolers.

It is entirely conceivable that prison cats contribute more toward the rehabilitation of inmates than all educational and behavioral modification programs combined. Carbonell and her staff should reconsider their ill-advised decision and allow the cats to stay.

Photos: Vermont Department of Corrections (Windsor facility), Toby Talbot of the Associated Press (Anita Carbonell at prison), Bill O'Leary of the Washington Post (cat behind bars at an unidentified facility), and Daniel R. Patmore of the Associated Press (Jeepy and Fulcher).