While rollerblading one afternoon last week, I heard an essay read for the second time on NPR. The essay was by a man in prison for murder. I believe he said he’d been there 20 or 25 years.
The essay was about a stray cat that wandered onto the prison grounds. The writer said men who under normal circumstances would kill each other as soon as look at each other bonded over caring for the cat. He described one prisoner using a pair of blunt-tipped scissors to cut burrs and matted fur from the cat and others leaving bread crumbs out for the cat to eat.
He told of prison guards standing around smiling, watching the interaction between the prisoners and the cat. This one small animal, homeless and unwanted, brought peace to one of the most unpeaceful places on earth.
Hearing this essay reminded me of a show that’s on Animal Planet every once in a while. It chronicles a program where prisoners work with animal shelters. The shelters or rescue organizations assign dogs to prisoners for training. These are usually dogs that the shelter does not have time to train and would be put down due to temperament issues. The prisoners receive training and then rehabilitate the dogs, which are then adopted out to families.
The dogs live with the prisoners during the training period, and once a prisoner finishes training one dog, he or she gets a new dog to train. The show reports that the level of recidivism amongst these prisoners once released is extremely low compared to other prisoners after release.
Empathy is an amazing thing, and animals can teach it in ways no other living creature or experience can. Add this to how many human lives animals have saved over probably thousands of years, all without asking for anything in return but a little food and a kind hand across the back.
I will never understand how any human can dislike animals or be cruel to them. It makes no sense to me and probably never will. I’ve been around creatures of all kinds and sizes my whole life and never met one that was truly bad. Some had little behavior issues, but in the end, they act on instinct or as trained. They deserve so much more than most of them receive.