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Homeless cats escape their cages into a maximum security prison
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Therapy and rescue combine into one program, as inmates care for cats and get unconditional love in return. - photo by Eric Schulzke
Twelve homeless shelter cats escaped their cages into a maximum security prison in Pendleton, Indiana, in a new program that rescues cats and gives inmates pet therapy in one package.

The program, called FORWARD, which stands for Felines and Offenders Rehabilitation with Affection, Reformation and Dedication, aims to teach inmates responsibility and affection while giving the cats a loving environment.

Its kind of ironic that these cats had to come to prison to have some freedom, inmate Barry Matlock told Casa Grand Dispatch. We deserve to be locked up, or at least I do, but these cats havent done anything wrong.

No matter what your stress is, I always look forward to coming here for those nine hours," said inmate Lamar Hall, who works with the cats, to WISHTV.

"It takes a lot of stress away," Hall said. "It keeps my mind on good things, positive things, rather than just sitting in a cell for the majority of the time, pondering on things that may have happened to you. Its definitely a stress reliever. Love will change characteristics from anybodys tortured past. That goes for animals and humans, really.

Animal therapy in prisons is not altogether new. Last year we covered a prison program that utilizes female inmates to train service dogs for veterans.

And Tim Hayes at the Huffington Post in May did a story on a wild-horse training program in a Colorado prison. There, inmates learned to connect with horses who were scared and violent and came from awful backgrounds, much like many of them.

"The inmates who participated in WHIP had committed every crime imaginable, some frightening or violent," Hayes wrote. "They arrived at prison with a lot of swagger. Most were from gangs. In their world they saw themselves as tough guys, dangerous, bad. But the first time a wild mustang came at them, their rock-hard attitudes crumbled. On the streets the only way they knew how to relate to almost anyone was with anger, mistrust, and deadly force, but now it was instantly apparent that their way wouldn't work with these horses."

But the cats, as one observer noted, may be the perfect low-key animal therapy. There are plenty who need homes, and they are free with their affection and much lower maintenance than dogs or horses.