The therapeutic effect of animals isn’t something we’ve just discovered. Throughout the world, there are places that offer sessions with animals who are specially trained to comfort people who are under a lot of stress. These animals are mostly used in places like hospitals and nursing homes which see a lot of trauma and are often sent to places where traumatic events have recently occurred.
Cats and dogs are the ones most frequently used for animal therapy and they really help people who are suffering from anxiety and depression. They lift their spirits, decrease stress, and even lower blood pressure. A prison in Indiana has adopted cat therapy but with a twist – not only is it for the prisoners but it is for the cats as well.
In collaboration with the Animal Protection League, Indiana came up with a wonderful initiative at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. Starting from 2015 the initiative which is called F.O.R.W.A.R.D has been a huge success.
The concept behind F.O.R.W.A.R.D is definitely a thing of beauty. The prison is now home to many shelter cats and the prisoners are now caring for them. The initiative really changed the lives of both humans and animals.
Being shelter cats, most of them haven’t had the comfort of living in happy, healthy, and caring homes. They need affection as much as people do and being able to spend time with the prisoners in a supervised location allows them to be cared for the way they should have been from the start.
Due to the difficult backgrounds they’ve been rescued from, many of them have difficulty trusting people and since they don’t warm up to visitors quickly, they are left to live their lives at the shelter becoming less likely to be adopted as they grow older. F.O.R.W.A.R.D is a great initiative for these cats because they are treated patiently with all the love and affection they need until new homes can be found for them.
Under this initiative, the prisoners take over their feeding and grooming. They even clean up after the cats and they’ve slowly but surely established a bond with them. And this isn’t just for the cats. Even the prisoners benefit because the cats teach them to be compassionate and care for another being that is completely dependent on them. Being able to commit to another soul like this is something everyone needs to learn in their lifetime.
According to Maleah Stringer, the director of the Animal Protection League, the prisoners have told them that getting a cat has made them remember that they too are allowed to care for and love other lives. They learn responsibility and how to work together without resorting to violence to find solutions for issues. The unconditional love that only pets are capable of giving is something many of them have never experienced before.
Similar initiatives are now being adopted in many prisons across America. The Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offender Unit has partnered up with Purrfect Pals and they’ve noticed that the prisoners there are becoming more responsible and gaining self-esteem. Many have even found the motivation to study further, search for gainful employment, and even change their behavior just so they can participate in the initiative.
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Of course, there are people who believe that offenders who have been convicted for committing horrifying crimes shouldn’t get pets. But these initiatives are clearly improving the lives of both animals and humans and if it works, it works!