The Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, LA is home to more than just inmates. It houses the Pen Pals Dog and Cat Shelter. This combo was created after Hurricane Katrina inundated the area with homeless pets. A makeshift shelter was setup at the prison to house 300 homeless pets, with the inmates trained to care for the animals.
After the Humane Society of the US gave the DCI a $600K grant, a permanent shelter and clinic was setup at the prison, with the help of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. The clinic can house 60 dogs and 34 cats, and the shelter can accommodate up to 300 animals during a disaster.
The shelter was built with inmate labor to cut costs and nonviolent offenders work in the clinic, caring for the animals in the shelter. Their jobs are described as “messy, smelly and tedious,” but the inmates love what they do and take their jobs very seriously.
There are actually many such programs across the US. The Tender Loving Dog Care program operates out of the Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio. It pairs inmates with homeless pets, in a similar environment to the Dixon facility.
Animal Safe Hospice is operated by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Phoenix, Arizona. It began as a way to simply house animals which were seized during animal cruelty investigations. It grew to include the inmates caring for these pets, many forming long-term bonds.
Prison officials have noticed big changes in the inmates. They see them developing more patience and a feeling of self-worth. The pets give them a reason to get up in the morning and go to work. It helps them inside prison and gives them a better shot at making it when they get out. It also helps pets who may have been euthanized or simply abandoned. Together everyone seems to win when these facilities embrace unconventional ways to care for pets, as we also care for our fellow man.