Beloved Prison Cats Find Health and Hope

Local Rescue group helps beloved Durham County prison cats through TNR efforts, medical care, and adoption.

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Photo: Marc Liu

More than a year ago, North Carolina’s Durham County Prison officials contacted Tia Hagnas, founder of Alley Cats and Angels, to help them spay/neuter the four beloved companion cats that lived alongside the prisoners.  Hagnas vowed to help with Bobo, Smokey, Runt, and Twinkletoes, as well as the several feral cats who lived on the prison grounds.

Although Hagnas knew TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) was the most effective way to address the feral population, it is currently illegal in Durham and Wake counties because the “return” portion is looked upon as pet abandonment.  With the consent of the prison superintendent, Hagnas went ahead with the TNR approach, with the plan of making the more tame cats available for adoption and returning the others to the prison grounds.

It took a while for the prisoners to trust Hagnas.  They loved the cats and were afraid she would bring them to animal control to be euthanized; they went so far as to hiding some of their favorite cats from her. She constantly reassured them and the prisoners finally saw she was honestly helping the cats when she returned them with clipped ears (which help identify the sterilized ones).  Slowly, they began helping her in her mission; soon it wasn’t even necessary to trap the cats — the prisoners simply handed them over.

Now, over a year later, there have been no kittens born on the property.  This is a definite success and living proof TNR works to curb pet overpopulation.  A total of 15 adult ferals were TNR’d and eight kittens and one adult found homes through adoption. The bad news is that last week Hagnas got word the prison would be closing and the inmates moving to a new facility.  The prisoners are devastated and once again worried their feline friends would become captured and killed.  After all, before Hagnas, their only experience had been the usual method of “taking care” of ferals: animal control officers shooting the cats. Hagnas again assured them she would make sure the cats were either adopted or cared for by the local animal rescue organization.

And that’s just what she is doing.  There are still a few cats available for adoption and the Durham County Independent Animal Rescue is monitoring and caring for the community cats.  Hagnas said local groups will continue to advocate change for the TNR ordinaces. She told the Durham NewsObserver, “The TNR at the prison was not only beneficial for the inmates and the cats, but also for the taxpayers.  Because animal control wasn’t being called out there over and over, money was not spent to kill the cats, and no new kittens were born.”

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