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Teens lucky to have cat at juvenile detention center

By jim Published: August 24, 2009

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — When juveniles at the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center are upset about their situation or what is going on in court that day, they know that Lucky will understand and help get their minds off their troubles.

Lucky is a 6-year-old domestic, short-haired black cat with green eyes who arrived at the jail in March on Friday the 13th. Jail Administrator Capt. Fran Hall and her staff wanted to adopt a cat for the juveniles at the jail to help provide some therapy, she said.

While a therapy dog has come to visit once a month for the last few years, the jail staff felt a permanent pet would be even more helpful.

When teacher Lisa Shepard showed her jail class a picture of Lucky on the Sebastian County Humane Society Web site, they were concerned about getting a black cat on Friday the 13th.

"We told them it was OK because we don't believe in superstition," she said.

The jail staff doesn't push the cat on the juveniles. Some of them are not animal people and that's OK, Hall said.

Lucky saunters around the jail classroom where the juvenile boys are in the morning and the juvenile girls are in the afternoon. Sometimes he hides under a desk, but he could as easily jump on someone's lap. He's not big on being ignored, either.

"I think it helps soften them and soften the mood," Shepard said.

Hall said she wanted to find a cat that was very loving and could handle being loved on by several people.

As they searched for the perfect pet at the Sebastian County Humane Society, Hall walked up to the glass cage which held Lucky and put her hand on the cage.

"I knew he was going to be a real affectionate cat because he started rubbing and rubbing the glass," Hall said.

The Humane Society waived the adoption fees when it learned where Lucky was going and for what purpose. Lucky was at the shelter because his owner, an elderly man, was unable to continue to take care of him.

An adult is always present when the cat is interacting with the juveniles, Hall said

Jeff, a juvenile housed at the jail, said his family used to have cats. "Having the cat here, it gives us something to concentrate on."

Elijah, who's more of a dog person, admits he likes the cat, too. "A cat is more peaceful," he said. "It calms you down."

When the juveniles are upset about what's happening in court, Lucky is very calming.

"It just makes (our) visit here more comfortable," James said.

Lucky was reluctant to join the juveniles in the exercise yard at first. He's not as shy now because he's found that he's fond of the birds that fly over.

Shepard lets her students know that the cat is theirs while they are residents of the jail. Shepard said one of the juveniles told her he's never had a cat before, and when he is released, he is going to get one. She thinks having the cat teaches them responsibility.

Some help feed Lucky, but so far there have been no volunteers to clean the litter box.

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