Saturday, November 12, 2005

Good for the cats, good for the inmates

Inmates take in cats displaced by Katrina

CHESTERFIELD, Va. — Prison is a refuge for about two dozen cats displaced by Hurricane Katrina, a place filled with women happy to be able to soothe away their trauma and fear. ...

A feeling of serenity permeates the prison's shelter, a squat, maroon building just outside the barbed-wire fence. Pictures of cats plaster the cinderblock walls and cat-print curtains and pillows brighten the otherwise drab room.

"It's probably the nicest shelter that they could ever land in, so far as the amount of love and attention," Lynch said. "I walked in and it was just amazing -- just this total sense of calm. ... They seem to blossom out here." ...

"Had I been at home, I probably would have gone down and helped," inmate Tuesday Kilgore, 35, said as she reclined in a chair next to her favorite cat, Skye. "This gives me responsibility and gives me motivation to go out and live a so-called normal life."

"It makes us feel like we can be a part of something -- to be a part of the storm -- to help out," Brickey said. "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." ....

Comment: Having "inherited" a small yorkie-spitz cross (it came with the wife when we got married), I've learned how incredibly therapeutic and humanizing the presence of such pets can be. They're intelligent and "human" enough, but still pure (lacking in all of those nasty tendencies which only fallen rational souls can possess), and make excellent companions for broken people - and are not we all to some extent?

Far from just being an attempt to put inmates to some useful work, I would think the presence of dogs/cats (particularly the latter since they're lower maintenance and pose less of a danger if poorly socialized) in prisons should be a normal practice - perhaps as part of an attempt to subtly rehabilitate criminals. A dog/cat gives the caretaker a sense of responsibility, and helps foster those feelings of empathy which are obviously lacking in a heart when they violate the rights of others.

Pets are also non-judgemental, their love being unconditonal - they care not about your social standing, what others think of you, what you may have done in the past, your colour, etc. This is going to sound horribly "lefty" of me, but I must say it because it is true - simply put, criminals are not formed in a vacuum. Very often, something (often many things) have gone wrong in their lives, and they did not possess the character/virtues to overcome these extraordinary difficulties. This does not absolve the offender, of course; but it does explain a lot. Perhaps having these criminals tending to animals would be a good step toward undoing at least some of this damage.


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