'Inmates Nursing Kittens' program gives both felons and felines new lease on life

Photo courtesy Nevada Humane Society

Ink doesn't just describe the tattoos that cover the skin of many inmates at Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City. INK actually stands for 'Inmates Nursing Kittens.'

"We take in cats that for some reason or another don't have a mother to take care of them," said Victor Meden, who added that he named his kitten Lita after his favorite rock star, Lita Ford.

The inmates participating in the INK program play the role of the kittens' mothers, essentially teaching the tiny animals how to be cats. Inmate George Greene said, "So you have to be I want to say the father [or] the mother to the kittens."

While fun, raising a newborn kitten is no easy task. Associate Warden Lisa Walsh said, "The inmates have to get up every two hours to bottle feed the kittens. They are also solely responsible for their health and welfare."

Nursing the kittens requires diligence. INK participant Terrence Jones said the inmates have to teach the kittens everything about life, including, "how to poop the right way." According to fellow inmate Victor Meden, the 'surrogate mothers' also have to "make sure they're clean, make sure they have the food and just make sure they get the love and attention they need."

The offenders know participating in the INK program is a privilege. Meden said the inmates must be veterans to take part. They also "had to be disciplinary free. I had to show I was an inmate that was capable of following the rules."

When describing the program, the inmates used words like "a great blessing" and "eye-opening." Even so, Warm Springs Correctional Center officials are making sure the prisoners are learning from their experience with the kittens.

"We're not here to make sure that the inmates have pets," Associate Warden Lisa Walsh said. "We have a future objective which is implementing the correct programs and also the right tools so that the inmates can integrate out successfully."

It seems there's one tool all of the inmates will take with them when they walk away from the program. Terrence Jones said, "It's teaching me responsibility; how to take care of things better." Inmate Greene agreed. "This responsibility has taken us a long ways because you have to get up early in the morning. In fact, it's every day. They need you."

The inmates are not the only community members benefiting from the INK program, though. Kimberly Wade with the Nevada Humane Society said, "They are saving lives. They are saving these little kittens."

The program helps the humane society care for the thousands of cats that come into their shelters during kitten season. "We don't have a very large foster program in Carson City," Wade said. "By the inmates and by the prison taking these kittens, they're really making a difference. They're allowing us to save even more lives and truly impact the greater good of these kittens as they grow into cats."

The INK program just started in April, but everyone involved told News 4, so far, it's working. The associate warden said, "We have not had one incident, no violence in that dorm since it got implemented."

'Inmates Nursing Kittens' isn't just life-changing for the cats. Walsh said, "We realized that there's a lot of offenders that have never taken care of anybody or anything or been responsible for them in their life."

George Greene is one of those inmates. "Two of [these kittens] were not expected to live, but due to care and the nurturing of the guys who take care of them... all four of them now are thriving and pretty soon, they'll be ready to go out and be adopted into families." The kittens will leave the prison when they reach two pounds. They'll go back to a Nevada Humane Society shelter, where they'll be vaccinated and spayed or neutered, before being put up for adoption.

Greene said he feels like this program is making him the man he was always supposed to be. "A lot of us are here because of a lack of love. And with these kittens we have learned to embrace that and to give that." He said he hopes to volunteer at an animal shelter when he finishes his sentence.

In fact, all of the prisoners who spoke to News 4 said they'll take what they learned with them when they eventually get to step outside the walls of Warm Springs Correctional Center. Inmate Meden said his INK experience will "remind me of the lessons I grew up with and that the military instilled in me of how to be a good person and how to live my life without taking advantage of others."

For others, continuing their service post-prison could be as simple as adopting a pet. Jones said, "When I do get out, I will be getting a cat."

Inmates at Warm Springs Correctional Center are currently fostering about 20 kittens, but officials said the program has been so successful, they hope to bring even more into the prison.

If you'd like to make a donation to the 'Inmates Nursing Kittens' program, CLICK HERE. If you're interested in fostering pets for the Nevada Humane Society, CLICK HERE.


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