Animals heal people. In fact, the healing power of cats and dogs has been a well-known phenomenon among many animal lovers for many years.
The animals help with depressions and anxieties. They are your best friend in difficult times, making you laugh, and reducing your stress on a busy day.
Their power to change lives now extends even further, as a large group of difficult-to-adopt cats from shelters in Indiana have been given unexpected owners in the form of prisoners.
Felines and Offenders Rehabilitation with Affection, Reformation, and Dedication (F.O.R.W.A.R.D.)
The state of Indiana has started a special project in collaboration with the organization Animal Protection League. The project (called F.O.R.W.A.R.D.) started in 2015 in Pendleton Correctional Facility.
The idea is simple but brilliant at the same time! Asylum cats are placed in the prison and in-mates are in charge of taking care of the fluffy critters.
The project has been successful for both the prisoners and the cats, who seem to have a good time behind bars.
Cats and Their Stories
Many of the cats have a violent past. The ability to be social with people in a controlled environment gives them a chance for fair treatment. It also gives the animals the right amount of attention and training they so desperately need.
Perhaps it is the difficult background that gives the cats and the prisoners such a strong bond. After all, many of the prisoners do not have an easy past.
Many of the cats present don’t trust people very well. Because of this they stayed in the shelter a lot longer than necessary. After all, they were a less good candidate for adoption.
That is exactly why the program turned out to be perfect for them. It helps the cats to trust the love and attention of people. It makes little difference that they receive training from prisoners. In fact, it is even good for them. Because of constant attention, the animals have a bigger chance to find a new home later on.
Caring for the Cats
The prisoners do everything for their cat. Feeding, brushing and cleaning up their mess. Slowly but surely, they regain the animals’ trust.
The cats are not the only ones to benefit from the unlikely bond. The males (often with a violent and eventful background) get a chance to experience compassion. A responsibility over another life that needs love gives the prisoners a purpose.
“Some prisoners told me when they were given an animal to take care of, that it was the first time they opened themselves up to take care of someone, to love someone,” said the director of APL, Maleah Stringer.
“It teaches them all about responsibility, about interacting in a group in a non-violent way. And then there’s the unconditional love of the cat – something that many of the criminals in the building have never experienced,” the APL writes on their website. The programs are now spreading rapidly across American prisons.
Benefits of the Program
“The program ensured that the prisoners had something to do, were given responsibility, and their self-confidence grew.
At the start of the program, participants have been more motivated to start school, find a job, follow rules and improve their hygiene.
These are the conditions to be able to take care of a cat. The presence of the animals in the E Unit has created new peace and quiet,” writes Purrfect Pals, the organisation that supplies the cats, on their website.
F.O.R.W.A.R.D. gives every prisoner a chance to take care of an animal and develop care and compassion. Cats in prison gives the inmates and cats the opportunity to improve themselves in a caring environment the offers support and guidance.