New Program at Travis County Jail Puts Pets and Inmates Together

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What do homeless shelter pets and inmates have in common? Actually, quite a lot, as it turns out. Both are often overlooked, cast-off members of our society. The isolation can be brutal for both. The good news is that an innovative new program is in the works at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, Texas that will bring these two neglected groups together.

Fostering Positive Interactions

Inmate and dog

Photo: Facebook/NewLeashOnLifeUSA

The city of Austin and Travis County are looking into partnering to send a mother cat, her litter of kittens and three overlooked dogs to the jail, where inmates will help train and socialize the animals to make the pets better candidates for adoption. At the same time, the effort would give the participating inmates skills and positive interactions that officials say will benefit them after their release.

“The jail is not a happy place, and it really shouldn’t be,” said Heather Stan, a social service program coordinator for the Travis County sheriff’s office. “But for some of these guys, they never have been able to do something positive in their life.”

A Doted-On Mama Cat and Babies

jail kitty

Photo: Facebook/AustinAnimalCenter

Three dogs and one litter of cats will live at the jail for the initial pilot portion of the new program, with an eye toward expansion “…after we work out the kinks,” Stan said. The cats would live in a special jail pod, where they would be exposed to female inmates who would help care for the mother and the kittens. The dogs would live among male inmates.

A Privilege to Work With the Animals

Photo: Facebook/NewLeashOnLifeUSA

“From the Animal Center’s perspective, this is an opportunity to get these animals additional socialization,” said Lee Ann Shenefiel, Austin’s interim chief animal services officer. “It also helps us meet our no-kill goals.” Dark said the inmates will be subject to a strict vetting process. No inmates who have been charged with or convicted of a violent crime will be in contact with the animals, Dark said.

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