Creature Comfort: Shelter Cats and Dogs May Join Inmates in Travis County Jails

Creature Comfort: Shelter Cats and Dogs May Join Inmates in Travis County Jails.

Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay

The Austin City Council has approved two new pet programs that will allow inmates in Travis County to foster kittens and dogs that are awaiting adoption.[1]

If approved by the Travis County Commissioners Court,[2] this trial collaboration between Austin Animal Center and Travis County will last one year, and it could be extended for two more years.[3] Beginning as early as this winter, the programs would be funded entirely through grants and staffed by volunteers from the city-run animal center.[4]

The programs would start with three dogs and a mother cat and her litter of kittens, and add pets over time.[5] In Kittens 101,[6] female prisoners would tend to felines housed in a special jail pod, while male prisoners would participate in an expanded version of the Dogs 101 program that began in the county in August 2016.[7]

Under the current program, inmates who qualify attend dog-training classes for 90 minutes each week to learn how to house and leash-train dogs, and teach commands like sit and lie down.[8] These inmates practice their skills with visiting dogs from the Austin Animal Center, a facility that does not euthanize dogs based on overcrowding.[9] But this training program lasts only four weeks; the proposed programs would further allow some county inmates to foster dogs in their cells.[10]

To qualify for the pets privilege, inmates would have to pass a strict vetting process and could not have charges or convictions involving violent crimes; no inmates in maximum security could participate.[11]

Pet programs are said to benefit inmates by boosting morale[12] and providing them with skills, opportunity for positive interaction,[13] and responsibility for something other than themselves.[14] Dog training has also been praised for building self-confidence and enabling inmates to volunteer at the animal center and do other work with animals after the inmates are released from jail.[15]

Meanwhile foster cats and dogs are said to benefit because they escape the shelter environment[16] and get socialization and training that make them better candidates for adoption, which supports the animal center’s no-kill goals.[17]

Programs like Austin’s have been around for decades and exist throughout the nation.[18]


[1] Programs Aim to Help Both Austin Animals & Inmates, KVUE.com, Sept. 28, 2017.

[2] Jankowski, Why Dogs, Cats Might Start Living at the Travis County Jail, Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 27, 2017.

[3] Programs Aim to Help Both Austin Animals & Inmates, KVUE.com.

[4] Jankowski, Why Dogs, Cats Might Start Living at the Travis County Jail.

[5] Id.

[6] Programs Aim to Help Both Austin Animals & Inmates, KVUE.com.

[7] Jankowski, Why Dogs, Cats Might Start Living at the Travis County Jail.

[8] Newberry, Travis County Inmates Training Shelter Dogs, KXAN.com, Nov. 3, 2016.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Jankowski, Why Dogs, Cats Might Start Living at the Travis County Jail.

[12] Programs Aim to Help Both Austin Animals & Inmates, KVUE.com.

[13] Jankowski, Why Dogs, Cats Might Start Living at the Travis County Jail.

[14] Dark, TCSO & Austin Animal Shelter Launch Dog Program Involving Jail Inmates, Travis County Sheriff’s Office, 2016.

[15] Newberry, Travis County Inmates Training Shelter Dogs.

[16] Dryer, I Feel I’ve Found My Calling’: Program Partners Pups with Inmates, CBS Austin, Nov. 3, 2016.

[17] Jankowski, Why Dogs, Cats Might Start Living at the Travis County Jail.

[18] See Associated Press, Prisoners Rehabilitate Death-Row Dogs: Program Trains Dogs to Be Adopted, Also Helps Reduce Violence Behind Bars, NBCNews.com, Oct. 3, 2006 (first prison program to train service dogs began in Washington state in 1981; similar programs to train dogs as service animals or pets have spread across the country, including in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, Maine, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin).

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