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Meow Mates: Program brings rescue cats to Wyoming jail

March 20, 2021 GMT
Lt. Jennifer Stephens holds a foster cat named Sully inside the Laramie County jail in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Black Dog Animal Rescue and the Laramie County Sheriff's Department created the "Meow Mates" program to help foster cats get used to being around people so they can become eligible for adoption. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP, File)
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Lt. Jennifer Stephens holds a foster cat named Sully inside the Laramie County jail in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Black Dog Animal Rescue and the Laramie County Sheriff's Department created the "Meow Mates" program to help foster cats get used to being around people so they can become eligible for adoption. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP, File)
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Lt. Jennifer Stephens holds a foster cat named Sully inside the Laramie County jail in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Black Dog Animal Rescue and the Laramie County Sheriff's Department created the "Meow Mates" program to help foster cats get used to being around people so they can become eligible for adoption. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP, File)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Laramie County jail has a new resident – a cat.

Black Dog Animal Rescue and the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department have partnered to begin “Meow Mates,” a program that will get foster cats out of a potentially stressful shelter environment, and allow them to be socialized with jail inmates who have been cleared to care for them. After a period of time, the cats will be eligible for adoption to new homes.

The initiative’s first cat, a 3-year-old male named Sully, was introduced to his foster home Wednesday morning. Black Dog employees placed Sully, still in a travel carrier, on a table and opened the carrier’s door, allowing jail employees and inmates to approach him. Spirits were high, with inmates joking that Sully was in for “cat burglary.”

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Sully, and other future cats in the program, will live in the jail’s housing units with inmates, who will be responsible for their care, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.

Kaitlin Whitman, Black Dog’s development and marketing manager, said the hope was to get cats from high-volume shelters ready for adoption through regular interactions and affection from inmates.

“Our goal is that the inmates in those housing units will be able to provide that cat with socialization that it might not have received previously,” Whitman said.

The presence of an animal in the jail is also likely to benefit the people who live and work there.

Laramie County Sheriff’s Lt. Jennifer Stephens cited research showing the presence of animals in a correctional facility increases the welfare of inmates.

In one particular study from 2006, she said, 100% of inmates described a less stressful environment, and 97% reported a better relationship between jail staff and inmates, and between inmates and inmates. An increase in self-control was reported by 93% of the inmates.

“They want to remain in the program, so they don’t do anything that could mess that up,” Stephens said.

Stephens said the inmates were “super excited” for the cat to arrive, consistently asking her when they would finally get to meet him.

Whitman said the program has been in the works since last summer, when Stephens approached the rescue with the idea. Stephens, who worked as a veterinary technician before her job with the Sheriff’s Department, said her own fostering through Black Dog gave her the idea for Meow Mates.

“I have brought in fosters to work, and so the inmates see the cats and they just want to be involved,” she said.

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Stephens began researching the idea about a year ago. Before Sully arrived, she’d already briefed the inmates who would be caring for him and given them basic training.

“We’re excited that it’s finally here, and we’re finally going to be able to send cats their way,” Whitman said.

The program will not cost the jail anything – as with its regular fosters, Black Dog will provide all of Sully’s supplies and medical care.

Since 2015, Black Dog has also partnered with the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington for the PACK Program, which pairs inmates with foster dogs. PACK dogs live with inmates, benefitting from training and socialization, according to the rescue’s website.