Cat lover or dog lover, animal person or not, you can’t look at a cat nestled in the arms of someone and not smile. And if you can, you may not have a soul. Cats can be seen as divas, but many of them are just as vulnerable and slow to trust as some of these inmates. Everyone involved in this program has benefited, as prisoners connect with animals for the first time since their incarceration, and shelter cats get the human interaction that they need. See what happened when a program called F.O.R.W.A.R.D. brought kittens to Pendleton Correctional Facility in Indiana.
Cats Are Even More Fragile Than You Knew
The ASPCA says that newborn kitties weigh a mere 3.5 ounces on average. That weight will nearly double in just a few days, but you can imagine the fragility of something that weighs about half a pound. It’s no surprise that prison is a rough place to be, but give a “hard” person a soft kitty, and this is what happens.
At Pendleton Correctional Facility, the prisoners are caring for shelter cats who don’t have a caretaker, which gives them a way to express compassion without having to be worried about perceived weakness.
Cats Suffer From An Issue That’s Common In Humans
The Humane Society of Huron Valley says, “A fearful kitten is generally one that has not had full socialization.” This can result in hissing or striking for the ones who had more rambunctious mothers, or simply running and hiding for the youngest ones or those whose mothers fled when in danger.
The society also says that it requires daily work and establishing a safe space for these cats to start to come out of their shell. This photo shows an inmate who has retained enough trust from an obviously fearful cat that he is able to pet it. That’s a proud moment.
Scared Cats Have These Triggers
The Humane Society lists common fear triggers for scared kittens, including loud noises or quick movements, strange environments or people, and a stressful event such as a move or the vet’s office. Getting close to these cats means creating a calm environment, and establishing oneself as a familiar and calm person.
Likewise, many inmates are slow to warm up to the cats. The caption to this photo as it appeared on Facebook reads, “Dean is already making progress and Miss B has her first new human friend.” Growing together establishes a likeness that is sometimes easier to find in animals than in humans.
Expressing Affection Means You’re Gaining This
Psychology Today writes that for people with low self-esteem, it can seem frightening to express affection for fear of rejection. What ensues is a withholding of love and gratitude in an attempt to minimize the likelihood of rejection, even if it means missing out on relationships altogether.
The expression of affection reveals healthy self-esteem. The inmates photographed here don’t have to worry about the cats rejecting them. While some of the kittens may have initially feared them, the mutual trust built allows both parties to express affection freely, and reap the benefits to their confidence.
Inmates Aren’t The Only Ones Who Need These Cats
Researchers at UC Berkeley have found that correctional officers are more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts, depression, and PTSD. It’s easy to overlook the traumatic effects of prison on officers because they are in a position of power.
On the daily, these officers are exposed to the same attitudes and experiences brewed in a prison as the inmates, and when they go home at night they have to shut it off just long enough to wake up and do it again. This officer is clearly happy to see a relaxed friend.
This One Thing May Actually Decline Incarceration And No, It’s Not The Cats
Scholars Strategy Network notes that prison rates dropped significantly after the year 2000 in direct correlation to a decline in public punitiveness. This means that the public view has a huge impact on getting prison rates down.
The photo above shows inmates and visitors petting and enjoying the cats. By establishing a less intimidating way for discourse between inmates and others to ensue, we recall the humanity that we share. Plus, is there any less intimidating way to talk to an inmate than while playing with kitties?
Inmates Might Love Cats, But What About Other Humans?
It’s ironic to see a man clutching onto his cat while seeming to tell the camera to back off. What it shows, though, is that even if distance persists between inmates and others, it doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of attachment.
According to The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, those in the justice system are significantly more likely to have trauma stemming from abuse than the rest of the public is. Being outcasted, rejected, and abused can make it difficult to get close to others. Cats are a great beginning step.
Cats Might Love Their Caretaker, But What About Other Humans?
A Youtube video posted in 2014 called “My Cat Saved My Son” shows a little boy get bit and dragged by a dog, before the boy’s cat leaps straight at the dog, sending the canine racing away. The boy’s leg showed bites from the dog’s teeth, but luckily only required a few stitches.
So, yes, cats can be protective of those who they’ve attached to and who have become attached to them. In this photo, the cat is clearly telling someone to get away, all while a smiling inmate safely and comfortably holds him.
Cats Make You Feel Young
Help Guide states that play in adults can relieve stress, improve brain function, stimulate the mind and creativity, improve relationships and connection with others and raises energy. Anyone who has a pet knows it’s impossible to care for an animal without playing with them, like this inmate pictured teasing a cat with a string.
Pets don’t make the decision one day that they are too mature to roll on the floor with a toy or leap up and down. Maybe it’s boredom, or maybe they know something we’ve forgotten, that play is necessary to be healthy.
Cats May Help Inmates Gain This Affordable Medicine
With such high incarceration rates, the public is in a bit of a pickle regarding prison funding. On one side, we’re stretched to the limit. On the other side, issues with how the system functions have to be addressed. A huge element of the struggle is how to handle mentally ill inmates.
A scholarly review published on NCBI notes that humor is an inexpensive, natural, and easy therapy that can be used in various settings and can, at the very least, offer temporary relief to those with mental illness. Pets bring laughter, and sometimes, that’s the best medicine and the cheapest.
Cats Are Kind Of Like Crickets
A study concluded that older adults who took care of five caged crickets for two months had less depression than the control group. What do crickets have to do with anything you might ask? The reason they benefitted was from having to care for something.
Caretaking creates the sensation of being needed and wanted. Just look at this inmate stopping to pet his cat after harnessing it. Caring for anything, even an insect, gives a sense of purpose and power. In this case, the petting might be a promise that his power won’t be abused.
Animals Can Affect An Important Chemical In Your Brain
It would be hard to look at this photograph and try to convince yourself that these two aren’t bonded. The cat is leaning into the man. The man is pulling the cat in. It’s inspiring. What’s more, these two are not just attaching at the forehead. Underneath the surface, their brain chemistry is also connected.
A study in the journal Science showed that when a dog and its owner stare into each other’s eyes, both get a rush of oxytocin. The same chemical is released when we hug which is also important for social bonding.
Despite All My Rage, I Am Still Just A Cat In A Cage
Shelter pets have experienced life behind bars, at least at some point in their lives. Pets, in general, are placed in cages for all sorts of reasons, but it all adds up to one core truth: so their owners can better control them.
While inmates may have gotten themselves there, it still means that finding someone to relate to this particular setting is difficult. Not everyone has been locked up, and most feel judged if they have. Animals can’t judge on that sort of cognitive level, and even if they could they’d be in the same position of bowing to authority and civility.
Pets Can Help You Succeed At Your Job
USC’s Applied Psychology blog says that pets in the workspace help work-life balance. They help remind employees to take breaks, pass hours more happily, take a walk or play, maintain an overall higher spirit, create a comfortable environment, and increase camaraderie.
All of these effects lead to lower blood pressure and stress, and higher productivity. As you can see, this inmate doesn’t seem too stressed about the work he’s doing as he pets the cat sitting on the table.
Cats Can Train Us, Too
The caption for this photo’s original posting on Facebook said that Dre, the man pictured, chose to stay extra long to be with the cat in his arms. What’s striking about the image is that he seems to be in a meditative state, awake but calm, as though nothing was on his mind.
Healthline lists a host of benefits for meditating, including improved sleep, help fighting addiction, generated kindness, enhanced self-awareness, and emotional health. Merriam-Webster defines meditation as “a mental exercise, such a focus on breathing, in order to reach heightened spiritual awareness.” Sitting with a cat in his arms and eyes closed, Dre seems content.
Cats May Be Better Than Dogs In This One Setting
While having a pet, in general, has proven to lower blood pressure, there is some speculation out there about cats being more prime at this than dogs. Since dogs are generally larger and more rambunctious than cats, they predominantly require more effort. In terms of the rowdy prison life, the laid-back attitude of a cat is probably appreciated.
Moreover, cats requiring less effort means that more of them can inhabit the space. This guy seems hardly worn while holding a little kitten in each hand.
Seeing Something Cute Actually Heals You
Check out this guy in the window to the left, smiling at the cat from behind the glass. He looks so happy, and he isn’t even the one holding it! This is a purrrrfect example of the cuteness phenomenon.
CNC News reports that studies have actually shown looking at cute things can affect your reward system in the same way that some drugs do. Cute things boost your mood and heighten concentration. Being that many inmates struggle with addiction, cuteness may be more significant in prisons than we even realize.
When A Cat Gets Sick, Guess Who Gets To Be The Hero?
While we like to think of doctors as our heroes, the real heroes are the helpless people who stick by our side. It is never fun facing the fact that someone we care about might not always be there. Nonetheless, everyone gets sick. For cats, it’s usually problems of the stomach or eyes that are easily resolved. Sometimes it’s a serious disease like heartworm or cancer.
The positive impact is that being around someone in a worse state of health than yourself can be a sure way to produce gratitude. Further, it creates a deeper level of bonding and recognition of vulnerability.
Letting Go Of A Cat Is Allows For This
Cats typically live to be only 16 years old. For someone who will be in prison for a long time, they might see that cat through its entire life. Especially shelter cats that may not have received proper care previously, the likelihood that these men will bury one of their precious companions is likely.
The good news is that losing a pet in a controlled space can be great practice at the art of letting go. When life is too hectic, it can be hard to grieve properly. These two men exhibit this art by burying a friend.
Cats Help Us Mind Our Ps And Qs
Check out that stack of slices on the man’s plate to the left. You’d think he hasn’t seen a pizza in ages. That’s because he hasn’t. The Marshall Project posted what prison meals actually consist of, and it’s a far-cry from catering. While the objective of prison is not to create a dreamland getaway, it is nice that some showed some consideration.
Expressing gratitude is actually a sign of willing vulnerability. The cats had to learn to trust them. Maybe the prisoners can more easily see that not everyone is out to get them either.