- Associated Press - Sunday, April 12, 2015

PENDLETON, Ind. (AP) - An unfinished office at the Pendleton Correctional Facility has been fitted with litter boxes, scratching posts and walkways running from floor to ceiling to create a cat sanctuary. Not for the big jungle cats you see at zoos, but for house cats rescued by the Animal Protection League.

Instead of being kept in small cages at the League’s shelter, the 12 lucky cats now have free roam in the prison office, where they are cared for by prisoners.

“It’s kind of ironic that these cats had to come to prison to have some freedom,” Barry Matlock told The Herald Bulletin (https://bit.ly/1y4FId1 ). “We deserve to be locked up, or at least I do, but these cats haven’t done anything wrong.”

Matlock was one of seven prisoners on cat duty during a recent visit to the new sanctuary. The prisoners assigned to the sanctuary get to spend most of their day, brushing and petting the cats, feeding them and cleaning up after them. It’s a relationship that has worked out well for both parties.

“This is one of the best parts of my week,” Charles Barker, another prisoner, said. “It’s very therapeutic. After I did this a couple times, you spend your off days wishing you could go back.”

The cats seem to enjoy it as well. Most of them were curled up on a lap somewhere, purring and seeming appreciative of the attention.

Michelle Rains, spokeswoman for the prison, said the situation has worked out well so far. The prison already has a dog training program and thought a cat sanctuary would be a good idea as well. It helps get the cats out of their small cages and helps them interact with people and other cats. It also helps the prisoners gain necessary skills such as responsibility.

The idea is that prison employees who visit the sanctuary will want to adopt some of the cats, which in turn will allow for more cats to be moved from the Animal Protection League to the prison.

Kara McEntire, the internal affairs secretary at the prison, said the arrangement has gone well so far.

“This is the best part of my day, when I can come hang out with the cats,” she said. “All the guys have been great so far.”

Rains said she has been flooded with requests from prisoners who want to help out at the sanctuary. She said she has been very careful with who gets to help, which includes a lengthy interview to make sure the prisoners will be OK with the cats.

“At first the other guys were teasing me, like, ‘You really just pet cats all day?’” Larry Welch said. “But now they’re like, ‘Man, how do I sign up for that?’”

APL Executive Director Maleah Stringer said she is happy with how the program has worked out so far and hopes more continue to catch on.

“We’ve got a huge, untapped workforce at the prisons,” she said. “I think we need to take full advantage of that.”

The most important thing for the prisoners working at the sanctuary is helping the cats find good homes.

“I hope people keep supporting the APL,” Matlock said. “These cats deserve good homes. I don’t know how people can just get rid of them like they do.”

Due to security issues, the sanctuary is not open to the public. It is open to prison employees only. There are still plenty of cats at the Anderson agency’s facility, 613 Dewey St., for anyone interested in adoption.


Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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