Roswell Prison Guns Down Fifteen to Twenty Cats with the Blessings of the Animal Welfare Alliance
"It's more humane, especially if they're ill, to dispatch them with a bullet than to let them suffer, languish, or starve."
-- Judy Hathcoat, Animal Welfare Alliance
Penal institutions are a favorite dumping ground for individuals who unconscionably abandon cats. Despite the formidable challenges presented by predation, hunger, disease, and hit-and-run drivers, a good portion of these brave and hardy animals survive and their numbers generally increase over time.
Some forward-looking institutions with an ounce or two of compassion institute TNR programs in order to stabilize the population while others are deaf, dumb, and blind to any option except trap and kill. Few prisons are, however, so brazen as to have their resident felines shot on sight.
Roswell Correctional Center in Hagerman, New Mexico is an exception to that rule in that it recently had its guards shoot down between fifteen and twenty of the facility's cats. (See photo above of two kittens whose fate is unknown.)
Predictably, Chavez County Animal Control informed prison officials that their only options were to either shoot the cats or trap and bring them in for the shelter to kill. Worst still, this needless and inhumane slaughter was endorsed by the phony-baloney Animal Welfare Alliance of nearby Roswell.
"It's more humane, especially if they're ill, to dispatch them with a bullet than to let them suffer, languish, or starve," the organization's Judy Hathcoat crowed to KOB-TV of Albuquerque on February 28th. (See "Roswell Prison to Spay, Neuter Feral Cats.")
Aside from the impossibility of determining the health of a feral cat from the viewfinder of a rifle, it would be interesting to know if Hathcoat would extend her neo-fascist policy to humans if she were ever given the opportunity. Would she systematically dispatch the poor, sickly, disabled, and elderly to the devil with a bullet? Moreover, what about anyone who dared to disagree with her or stood in the way of her ambitions?
Although no reason has been given, the facility has since had a change of heart and apparently is going to give a modified version of TNR a try. According to KOB-TV, the remaining cats will be trapped and those deemed healthy will be sterilized and returned to the prison.
Sickly cats still will be killed although the mode of execution has not been specified. Presumably since they will already have them in hand the prison will not shoot them. Of course, it is conceivable that officials might turn around and release them in order to give their sharpshooters a little more target practice.
Opened in 1978, Roswell is a level II facility that houses three-hundred thirty-four inmates. (See photo above.) Heretofore known principally for an alleged UFO landing in 1947 and as the birth place of Demi Moore, Roswell now can add the gunning down of defenseless cats to its otherwise lackluster curriculum vitae.
Officials at Utah State Prison in Draper also used to be avid practitioners of trap and kill. All of that began to change some years ago when an unidentified inmate complained about the killings to substance abuse counselor Julie Cox.
To her eternal credit, Cox immediately recognized the injustice of the deplorable killings. "My initial thought was, 'Why are they killing these animals? They're the innocent ones in the prison'," she told the Deseret Morning News on January 10th. (See "New Day for Prison's Cats.")
Without hesitation, she enlisted the assistance of No More Homeless Pets in Utah and together they were able to convince the Department of Corrections to scrap trap and kill in favor of TNR. The petit fait that it required a convicted felon in order to put an end to these senseless killings raises the uncomfortable specter that perhaps the police and prosecutors have got things all wrong and that society might be better off if some of those individuals on the outside were to switch places with some of those on the inside.
If prisons exist primarily to protect society from violent offenders, then certainly the cat killers at Roswell and their cheerleaders from the Animal Welfare Alliance should be incarcerated. The same holds true for PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and any other group that champions the killing of animals.
Since its inception, TNR has successfully reduced the prison's feline population from hundreds to dozens. (See photos above and below.) The inmates care for the cats and even construct shelters for them while Cox and others buy food for them out of their own pockets. (See photo further down the page of a cat in one of the shelters.) No More Homeless Pets meanwhile provides medical care for those cats that require it.
In addition to being patently inhumane, the rescue group's Holly Sizemore insists that trap and kill simply does not work. "Those few cats left start breeding like crazy and over-breed in a vacuum effect," she told the Deseret Morning News in the article cited supra.
Caring for the cats also has proven to be therapeutic for the inmates. "It gives them a sense of responsibility and compassion," she added. "Some of these big guys are like, 'You'd better not mess with the cat.' They really love them. A lot of us understand how pets give us unconditional love, and it's not something you find in a prison."
Cox concurs. "It's good for them. They start caring for something else besides themselves."
At the Pocahontas Correctional Unit in Chesterfield, Virginia, a small group of females inmates recently took in and cared for more than two dozen cats that were left homeless by Katrina. Sporting such geographically appropriate monikers as Katrina, Gumbo, and VooDoo, the cats arrived at the facility in September of 2005 following a grueling twenty-hour truck ride from an overcrowded shelter in Jackson, Mississippi.
These cats were part of an estimated fifty-thousands animals that were left behind in the New Orleans area. Despite losing their homes, they were the lucky ones in that the storm is thought to have claimed the lives of more than one-hundred-thousand animals throughout the affected region. (See Cat Defender post of December 19, 2005 entitled "At Least 100,000 Cats and Dogs Were Killed by Katrina Along the Gulf Coast.")
Since they had been confined to cages at shelters for an extended period of time, some of them arrived suffering from respiratory ailments. At Pocahontas, they were cared for by inmates Tuesday Kilgore, Lisa Sclafani, and Wendy Brickey who provided them with food, medicine, toys and, ultimately, new homes. (See photo below of them, left to right, with their kittens.)
"It makes us feel like we can be part of something -- to be a part of the storm -- to help out," Brickey told MSNBC on October 19, 2005. (See "Inmates Welcome Cats Orphaned by Katrina.") "We are so secluded from the world and there's somebody waiting on their pets. And while I might never meet them, I took care of them while they're getting their life together."
"Had I been at home, I probably would have gone down and helped," Kilgore added. "This gives me responsibility and gives me motivation to go out and live a so-called normal life."
Quite naturally, the inmates over time became attached to their charges. In Brickey's case, the object of her affection was a kitten named Scarlett. Although she was so traumatized upon arrival that she would hardly allow anyone to touch her, she soon grew accustomed to cuddling with her caretaker.
"When I look at her, I see that after all this time, I'm not so wild anymore -- and she's not so wild anymore," Brickey confessed to MSNBC.
Pocahontas, which already had a fledgling nurturing plan in situ for homeless cats before Katrina, is far from being the only penal institution to have taken in cats and dogs displaced by the deadly storm. For instance, more than two-hundred animals were given temporary sanctuary in a converted dairy barn at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, Louisiana.
Moreover, the Solano County Sheriff's Claybank Sentenced Detention Facility west of San Francisco and the Blaine Street Jail in Santa Cruz have been allowing female inmates to serve as surrogate mothers to feral kittens for several years. (See Cat Defender post of October 27, 2005 entitled "Inmates at Women's Prisons in California Save Lives by Fostering Feral Kittens.")
Another cat-friendly institution is the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville where male inmates care for around fifteen homeless cats as well as operate an adoption service. (See Houston Chronicle, November 25, 2006, "Kentucky Prison Has Some Lifers Serving Nine of Them.")
In New York City, the ASPCA has instituted a successful TNR program at Rikers Island in the East River while at Turney Center Industrial Prison and Farm in Only, Tennessee a handicapped cat named Opie has transformed the lives of the inmates who slave away 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.")
Along with the successes there are inevitably horror stories similar to Roswell. For example, at Avenal State Prison near Fresno a new warden recently not only replaced TNR with trap and kill but also banned the feeding 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.")
Last year at the Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor, Vermont a new warden likewise evicted the facility's long-term resident felines. (See Cat Defender post of February 1, 2007 entitled "Vermont Prison Giving Felines the Boot Despite Opposition from Female Inmates.")
While penal institutions bear faint resemblance to a loving home, they are no doubt far preferable to either extermination at a shelter or being left to fend for themselves alone in the woods. Food, shelter, and veterinary care are at least available at most responsible facilities.
Prisons also profit mightily from their presence. Not only do the cats provide free rodent control but they also help to secure grain stores. Their presence also has an undeniably positive impact upon the inmates and that makes the job of running these horrible facilities considerably easier.
Most important of all, prisons that adopt a humane approach to homeless cats are demonstrating to the world that all cats have an inalienable right to life and liberty.
Photos: KOB-TV (Roswell kittens), New Mexico Corrections Department (Roswell facility), Jeffrey D. Allred of the Deseret Morning News (Utah State Prison cats), and Steve Helber of the Associated Press (inmates and cats at Pocahontas).