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Prison Pet Partnership via Facebook

8 Prison Animal Programs

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Prison Pet Partnership via Facebook

Prisons across the United States and elsewhere have instituted programs that pair inmates with animals in need. The benefits to the inmates are many: They can cuddle with the animals, learn new skills, practice compassion and consideration, and some even earn money or other privileges for their work. In turn, the animals benefit from the one-on-one attention. Here are a few of the many such programs offered by correctional institutions.


One of the oldest prison pet programs in the U.S. is the Prison Pet Partnership Program at Washington State Corrections Center for Women. Launched in 1981, it is a collaboration between the prison, Washington State University, Tacoma Community College, and Dominican nun Sister Pauline. Prison inmates are trained to raise puppies, socialize them, and train them for service to disabled people. The dogs come from animal shelters. Those that don’t quite make the grade to work as a service dog are trained in obedience and offered to the public for adoption. The program also serves as vocational training for inmates, who can earn certification in pet training and grooming. Early on, the program slashed the recidivism rate among inmates who participated for at least two years. Now in its 35th year, the program also offers boarding and grooming services to the public.


Starting in 2009, the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky, ran Camp Canine, which soon moved to the larger Kentucky State Reformatory. Dogs from animal shelters are sent to the camp to be trained by correctional center inmates. Eighteen inmates live with the dogs in a special wing of the prison, and rotate dogs so that each trainer works with all the dogs in the program. Professional trainers oversee the program and teach the inmate trainers. The goal is to turn hard-to-adopt dogs into well-trained and socialized pets, adoptable through the Humane Society of Oldham County. Another goal is to give inmates a chance to build relationships with the dogs, and to gain new skills they can use after they leave the prison.


A volunteer organization called Cuddly Catz began a program at Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt, Washington, in 2011 to rehabilitate cats at the prison. Cats that were considered un-adoptable because of behavior issues were diverted to Larch instead of being euthanized. They came from neglectful or abusive situations, and needed to learn how to live with humans. Inmates who qualified for the program kept a cat with them at all times in the minimum-security Silver Star unit, and had litter boxes and scratching posts in their rooms. They spent one-on-one time with the cats, helping them to overcome their fear of people. Occasionally, inmates were charged with caring for newborn kittens that needed feeding around the clock. The inmates benefited, too, by taking on a sense of responsibility for the cats. They also got the chance to be gentle. Eventually, the cats were deemed ready for permanent adoption.

In the five years since the program began, Cuddly Catz has dissolved, and is now known as the Larch Cat Adoption Program, working through the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society. However, they've recently begun a dog program at the Larch Corrections Center, too. In fact, all Washington state prisons run some kind of animal training or adoption program.


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The federal Bureau of Land Management oversees America’s wild horses. The population of wild horses has risen since they were put under the government's protection, so in order to stabilize the numbers, horses are being adopted out. But it takes some time to convert a wild mustang into a pet. The BLM is working with the Arizona Department of Corrections and Colorado Correctional Industries in a program called WHIP—the Wild Horse Inmate Program. The program is supervised by professional horse trainers, who teach inmates the art of gentling and training horses. Horses are available for adoption after they’ve completed the program. You can see them in Canon City, Colorado, and in Florence, Arizona.


DAWGS in Prison Program via Facebook

DAWGS in Prison, a program at the Gulf Correctional Institution in Wewahitchka, Florida, takes in unwanted and often abused dogs. (DAWGS is an acronym for Developing Adoptable dogs With Good Sociability.) Inmates socialize them and train the dogs in basic obedience, so they’ll be able to fit into new families when they are adopted. Inmates who participate in the program learn skills as trainers and handlers, and live with the dogs in a special work camp. A class of dogs graduated just recently, as the program celebrates its seventh anniversary. See some of the adoption stories on Facebook.


The Canine Performance Sciences Program at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine breeds and trains dogs, mostly Labrador retrievers, to detect the smells of bombs, viruses, poisons, and other dangerous materials. The yearlong program turns playful puppies into highly disciplined service dogs ready to perform. Puppies that show promise are selected for the training program, and are sent to one of five prisons in Florida and Georgia for basic training and socialization. They spend up to six months learning obedience, loyalty, and basic tracking skills. Meanwhile, the inmate trainers can earn continuing education credit through Auburn. After six months, the dogs are returned to Auburn for advanced scent training, which leads to jobs as canine security experts. Some dogs are also involved in research, such as the few that were specifically trained to sit still in an MRI machine so that researchers can study their brains while they are stimulated by scent, and the humans are given a certificate that they can use to hopefully get a job with dogs after getting released.


Inmates at the Norfolk County Jail in Dedham, Massachusetts, have an opportunity to work with raccoons, foxes, birds, and other animals in need at the New England Wildlife Center in Weymouth. The program was launched in 2014 by Sheriff Michael Bellotti to help inmates learn “respect and discipline” as they help care for the sick and injured animals. They also learn compassion and skills that will help them when they are released.  


Puppies Behind Bars via Facebook

The nationwide program Puppies Behind Bars works with several correctional facilities to train dogs from an early age in one of two careers. Some dogs are raised and trained to be service dogs for wounded veterans, while others are trained to detect explosives. Inmates in the program receive extensive training and ongoing supervision. The dogs are first taught to get along with humans, then go through basic obedience training, which leads to more specialized training. The program began in 1997 at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York, where inmates socialized puppies that later went on to become guide dogs for the blind. After 9/11, the explosive ordnance training program was added. In 2006, dogs began to be trained as service dogs for the many wounded veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. When a veteran is matched with a service dog, the veteran comes into the prison for a 16-day training course in using the service dog. Both the inmates and the veterans benefit from working together with the dogs. Puppies Behind Bars is now operating in six prisons.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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10 Juicy Facts About Sea Apples

They're both gorgeous and grotesque. Sea apples, a type of marine invertebrate, have dazzling purple, yellow, and blue color schemes streaking across their bodies. But some of their habits are rather R-rated. Here’s what you should know about these weird little creatures.


The world’s oceans are home to more than 1200 species of sea cucumber. Like sand dollars and starfish, sea cucumbers are echinoderms: brainless, spineless marine animals with skin-covered shells and a complex network of internal hydraulics that enables them to get around. Sea cucumbers can thrive in a range of oceanic habitats, from Arctic depths to tropical reefs. They're a fascinating group with colorful popular names, like the “burnt hot dog sea cucumber” (Holothuria edulis) and the sea pig (Scotoplanes globosa), a scavenger that’s been described as a “living vacuum cleaner.”


Sea apples have oval-shaped bodies and belong to the genus Pseudocolochirus and genus Paracacumaria. The animals are indigenous to the western Pacific, where they can be found shuffling across the ocean floor in shallow, coastal waters. Many different types are kept in captivity, but two species, Pseudocolochirus violaceus and Pseudocolochirus axiologus, have proven especially popular with aquarium hobbyists. Both species reside along the coastlines of Australia and Southeast Asia.


Sea cucumbers, the ocean's sanitation crew, eat by swallowing plankton, algae, and sandy detritus at one end of their bodies and then expelling clean, fresh sand out their other end. Sea apples use a different technique. A ring of mucus-covered tentacles around a sea apple's mouth snares floating bits of food, popping each bit into its mouth one at a time. In the process, the tentacles are covered with a fresh coat of sticky mucus, and the whole cycle repeats.


Sea apples' waving appendages can look delicious to predatory fish, so the echinoderms minimize the risk of attracting unwanted attention by doing most of their feeding at night. When those tentacles aren’t in use, they’re retracted into the body.


The rows of yellow protuberances running along the sides of this specimen are its feet. They allow sea apples to latch onto rocks and other hard surfaces while feeding. And if one of these feet gets severed, it can grow back.


Sea apples are poisonous, but a few marine freeloaders capitalize on this very quality. Some small fish have evolved to live inside the invertebrates' digestive tracts, mooching off the sea apples' meals and using their bodies for shelter. In a gross twist of evolution, fish gain entry through the back door, an orifice called the cloaca. In addition expelling waste, the cloaca absorbs fresh oxygen, meaning that sea apples/cucumbers essentially breathe through their anuses.


Most full-grown adult sea apples are around 3 to 8 inches long, but they can make themselves look twice as big if they need to escape a threat. By pulling extra water into their bodies, some can grow to the size of a volleyball, according to Advanced Aquarist. After puffing up, they can float on the current and away from danger. Some aquarists might mistake the robust display as a sign of optimum health, but it's usually a reaction to stress.


Sea apples use their vibrant appearance to broadcast that they’re packing a dangerous toxin. But to really scare off predators, they puke up some of their own innards. When an attacker gets too close, sea apples can expel various organs through their orifices, and some simultaneously unleash a cloud of the poison holothurin. In an aquarium, the holothurin doesn’t disperse as widely as it would in the sea, and it's been known to wipe out entire fish tanks.


These invertebrates reproduce sexually; females release eggs that are later fertilized by clouds of sperm emitted by the males. As many saltwater aquarium keepers know all too well, sea apple eggs are not suitable fish snacks—because they’re poisonous. Scientists have observed that, in Pseudocolochirus violaceus at least, the eggs develop into small, barrel-shaped larvae within two weeks of fertilization.


Syzgium grande is a coastal tree native to Southeast Asia whose informal name is "sea apple." When fully grown, they can stand more than 140 feet tall. Once a year, it produces attractive clusters of fuzzy white flowers and round green fruits, perhaps prompting its comparison to an apple tree.


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