Cats behind bars — more proof of how pets bring out our best

For years, corrections officials have been incorporating animal training programs into the various penal facilities that exist around the country. Many animals have been used, especially dogs.

The Seattle Times, in its May 3, 2012, edition is running a story called “Cats bringing out the soft side of inmates,”on the success of a program in a Vancouver, WA-area prison that is teaming cats with prisoners, in order to teach the incarcerated prisoners greater compassion, as well as modify their behavior and thus reduce risks, violence, and costs.

It appears to be working since its launch in January 2012.  The story describes how two inmates are paid 35 cents an hour to care for a 6-year-old cat with “a testy disposition.” The project is taking place at the Larch Corrections Center, which is described as a minimum-custody prison. In the words of one of the prisoners working with the cats: “This gives you a softer side; it makes you feel like you have a kid at home. When I’ve been out during the day I remember I’ve got my daughter at home waiting for me.”

The story notes that prisoners at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, in Gig Harbor, WA, have trained dogs for owners with special needs for three decades, and since the 1980s, dog-training programs have spread to much of the state prisons.

Mrs. Chippy, the cat on the ill-fated Antarctic expedition of the Endurance, and one of the most beloved members of the entire crew by the extremely hardened men who loved her.

So, once again, there is evidence of the mutually beneficial relationship that humans have with pets, and how human health and behavior can be positively impacted by the interaction with animals.

This does not involve costly technology, or coercive techniques, or anything that is radically new or not even known to researchers and people with good judgment and basic common sense. It does involve leadership and the willingness of those who run such institutions to try out something new.

Here is to the cats in at the Larch Corrections Center. Good work, and keep on purring.