Sporting a necklace made by one of the inmates who raised her, Alice poses for a floor-level photo Tuesday during a kitten graduation at Washington State Penitentiary.
Photo by Andy Porter.
WALLA WALLA — A half-dozen abandoned kittens have a new lease on life thanks to a dozen-and-a-half unlikely mentors.
The kittens brought to a local rescue shelter last April have been raised by a group of Washington State Penitentiary inmates to the point where they could be adopted. The task included bottle-feeding the infant kittens until they could eat solid food.
Kitties in the clink
Nine kittens were raised from infancy by a group of close-custody inmates, then turned over to the Blue Mountain Humane Society for adoption.
At a ceremony Tuesday at the prison’s West Complex, the 18 inmates involved in raising them turned their now-frisky feline charges back over to members of the Blue Mountain Humane Society and Cat Management Coalition.
It was the second group of kittens raised by inmates under what is officially termed the “offender-based cat program,” but unofficially known as “kitties in the clink.”
“Our guys did an amazing job. These are not the little kittens they were before,” said Dr. Tamara Russell, a prison psychologist who worked with BMHS on the program.
Intended to help teach responsibility and the handling of animals, inmates who applied to take care of the kittens were first carefully reviewed to screen out anyone with behavioral issues or a history of animal abuse.
The inmates were then allowed to keep and care for the kittens in their cells, although the keepers were allowed to bring their charges down to the commons area at certain times either in a carrier or on a leash.
“I never thought I would see a cat being walked down a breezeway on a leash,” said Santos De Leon, a correctional mental health counselor at Tuesday’s graduation.
Each kitten had a primary handler, secondary handler and a third keeper to ensure the animals were never left unattended. Although it was the second time the inmates had raised a group of kittens, it was the first time their charges were so young they had to be bottle-fed at first, something that had to be done every two hours.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, the kittens were set free to roam around the visiting room before being bundled off to their new homes. A gray and white one named Arthur made itself at home on the shoulders of Homero Balderas.
“We nicknamed him ‘The Miracle Baby,’” Balderas said, describing how his charge survived a brief health crisis after first arriving. “He gave us quite a scare.”
Yet another inmate offered a thought probably shared to others as the ceremony opened.
“I’m just honored and happy that I got to raise them,” he said.
Andy Porter can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8318.