Larch program helps felines become more social and adoptable

Correctional Cats

Photo courtesy of Larch Corrections Center James Resop, an inmate at Larch Corrections Center, in Yacolt, is among the handlers in a cat adoption program. The effort, which started in 2012, involves volunteers training the offenders to care for the cats. After the cats are trained and socialized, they are placed for adoption.

James Resop is learning patience through a cat adoption program at Larch Corrections Center.

Resop, a 39-year old inmate in the minimum security facility, in Yacolt, said he is enjoying learning what “his” cat likes and dislikes and being responsible for something other than himself.

Challenges include getting Butterfly, the cat, to exercise.

“Butterfly loves ice water and has mood swings,” Resop said.

Monique Camacho, a classification counselor 2 at Larch, is the coordinator of the cat adoption program. She is responsible for all of the cats and handlers, and she works directly with the partner organization.

Up until recently, Larch partnered with Cuddly Catz, an organization that was created to support the center’s cat adoption program. A contract with the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, of Washougal, is in the works.

Camacho said volunteers help teach general handling and cat behavior, and they take cat supplies to Larch.

“They also monitor and track progress for each cat,” she said. “They are wonderful, and I couldn’t do it without them.

“This program also helps the department and the offender build good relationships within the local community,” Camacho added.

Jerry Warfield, an inmate at Larch, said he has learned responsibility and the proper grooming and care of cats. He has also become aware of the signs to look for if a cat is unhealthy.

The rewards of the program for Warfield, 41, include the ability to give back to the community.

“Being able to help rehabilitate and take care of the cats gives me a feeling of self worth, and the program gives me something proactive to do with my time,” he said.

Camacho said she has noticed a change in most of the participants, that involves them starting to place their needs and wants after those of their cats.

“Many of them have never had anything or anyone to look out for,” she said. “They have become like parents to their cats and have become responsible handlers. Some of the handlers are already fathers, and it has given them back some of the love and affection that they miss out on from their kids. Although there is never a replacement for that, it helps.

“It also gives the offenders positive things to focus on and write about to their loved ones,” Camacho added.

She said the handlers learn how to work together, and many of them have learned to take different and positive approaches to life in general.

“Of course it’s not just the program that changes them, they have to be willing to change as well,” Camacho said.

Brian Bacon, a 22-year-old inmate involved in the cat adoption program, said he has learned that patience and understanding can change lives.

The rewards of taking part include “feelings that come with giving a second chance at life to an innocent animal,” he said.

“Sometimes it can take a couple months just to get an animal comfortable before seeing positive changes,” Bacon added.

He said it is also a challenge to give up the cats after forging such close bonds.According to Camacho, some of the cats that were previously in the Larch program came from personal homes. A new policy does not allow that.

Six kittens were rescued from a hoarding situation. Of those, Cleo and Jinx, remain at Larch.

Camacho said many of the cats learn quickly how to live and adapt to a busy environment.

“The shy cats learn that people can be trusted and can be kind,” she said. “They learn to trust their handlers and form bonds with them rather quickly, even the shyest ones.”

Camacho recalled one of the more challenging situations involving a female cat that would hiss when she saw a brush or someone would get close to her.

“She left a quick and certain fate for anyone that got too close,” she said. “It was pretty scary. Her handler didn’t care. He fell in love instantly, and she will never be the same.

“She recently left our facility, and now she can be held, brushed, nails clipped, bathed, and would purr if you got your rubs just right,” Camacho added.

Steven Hicks, a 31-year-old inmate at Larch, said he appreciates the opportunity to be beneficial to the community by rehabilitating troubled cats so they may be put within loving homes.

One of the rewards of participating in the cat adoption program is “knowing that I am still able to make a difference,” he said.

To qualify, handlers are selected following a review of their full documented criminal history as well as their behavior inside Larch.

“They cannot have a history of violent crimes, crimes of a sexual nature or crimes against vulnerable victims,” Camacho said. “They should have close to a year left, and they have to have been within the prison system for a minimum of 90 days for observation.

“They cannot just simply want to have a cat,” she added. “They have to show willingness to work with animals, people and the program accordingly, while staying out of trouble. Infractions not related to the program are also cause for dismissal.”

Meanwhile, WCGHS Board Secretary Mark Fruechtel said the organization needs donations of flushable cat litter for the program at Larch.

Individuals interested in volunteering are invited to attend an orientation Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m., in the Vancouver Police Department East Precinct conference room, 520 S.E. 155th Ave.

For more information, call 835-3464 or 335-0941 or visit www.wcghs.org.

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