Pets have always been not only our companions but often even healers. The therapeutic power of cats and dogs have been known for years. These furry companions help us to reduce depression and anxiety, feel less lonely, elevate our mood, and even decrease blood pressure. However, one other aspect of pets’ ability to transform lives often gets overlooked – it’s their capability of helping prison inmates.

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In 2015 in the state of Indiana, Animal Protection League started a wonderful program in Pendleton correctional facility called F.O.R.W.A.R.D.

The idea behind this initiative is to take animals from a cat shelter and place them in the correctional facility so inmates could take care of them. The program quickly proved to be beneficial for both the adorable cats and inmates.

Many cats who end up at the shelter, often have a long history of abuse and mistreatment, thus leaving them unable to socialize with humans properly.

These felines lack trust in people and have a lower chance of being adopted. What they need is patient and loving care before they can find a forever home, and this behavior modification and trust gaining program provides it to them.

While the cats are being taken care of by prisoners who feed them, clean after them and groom them, the animals become more social and trusting towards humans.

However, cats are not the only ones who benefit from the program. Inmates get a wonderful opportunity to learn how to care for and take responsibility for a living creature.

“I’ve had offenders tell me when they got an animal, it was the first time they can remember they were allowing themselves to care about something, to love something,” said the director of APL, Maleah Stringer.

“It teaches them responsibility, how to interact in a group using non-violent methods to solve problems and gives them the unconditional love of a pet – something many of these inmates have never known,” the APL writes on their website.

Similar animal programs are widespread across the department of corrections. One of them is established in Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offender Unit by the organization called Purrfect Pals.

The program has proved itself very successful.

“The MCKC Program has reduced offender idleness, taught offenders about responsibility and increased their self-esteem. Since the program’s inception, offenders have been motivated to enroll in school, obtain jobs, obey unit rules, and improve their hygiene so that they may become MCKC participants. The presence of animals on E Unit has added a new calmness to E Unit’s therapeutic milieu and strengthened its community spirit,” Purrfect Pals writes on their website.

However, one particular animal in prison program made people quite angry. After the release of Death Row 2018, which revolves around the inmates of Indiana State Prison, people took to social media to express their belief that people convicted for heinous crimes shouldn’t be allowed to keep cats in their cells. Many of the said that inmates couldn’t be trusted with pets.