Alley Cat Allies reinvigorated the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program at Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, NJ, in 2015. We are proud to play a significant role in helping the prison carry out its community cat program. Recently, we took steps to make it even more successful.

It’s not so simple for the cats to go for veterinary appointments, so we created the Bayside State Prison Cat Wellness program to ensure systematic, ongoing care for the cats. Every single cat has a name—such as Bruiser, Shady, Daisy, and Tom Tom—medical record, and microchip.

Since April 2017, 40 cats have been taken to a veterinarian for a general annual wellness exam. Any cats who need care outside of their annual visits are, of course, taken to a clinic. The officers and inmates go to great lengths to make sure the cats are happy and healthy, and an Alley Cat Allies team member visits the prison every week.

Recently, a cat named Baby Girl had a few lumps on her back. The inmate she was closest with could point out the exact location of each lump and was very concerned. After a cytology—a medical procedure to determine the nature of the lumps—the veterinarian confirmed they were benign, and she is back with her inmate. Baby Girl’s swift detection and diagnosis was made possible by the wellness program and the collaboration between prison inmates, administration, and Alley Cat Allies.

“This program works,” one corrections officer said. “Not only do we have a partner in Alley Cat Allies, we have a program that meets the needs of the cats, the facility, and the inmates. The inmates and officers are bonded to the cats.”

Our work with Bayside State Prison began in 2014, when the administration issued a feeding ban with no warning, jeopardizing the lives of the cats who had come to be dependent on food from humans. Feeding bans are cruel and ineffective, yet when Alley Cat Allies staff member Kim Kean brought cat food to the prison, she was turned away. We met with prison officials to create a plan of action to address any concerns about the cats while also protecting their lives.

While some of the cats at the prison had already been spayed, neutered, and vaccinated through an existing TNR program, they needed help formalizing and increasing these services. Alley Cat Allies, with our expertise and experience with cats in institutions, put our problem-solving skills to work, always keeping the cats’ best interest in mind. To date, we have carried out TNR for 118 cats at Bayside State Prison.

Any TNR program is a community effort. When troubleshooting is needed, it’s important to have an open dialogue. There were some unique administrative challenges at Bayside State Prison that TNR efforts don’t typically have to accommodate, like strict security and protocols. Alley Cat Allies has gone to great lengths for this unique program, including obtaining background checks for our employees so they could gain access to the prison.

Going the extra mile to help cats is what we’re all about.

In fact, the Southern State Correctional Facility in Delmont, NJ, contacted Alley Cat Allies for help shortly after we started the program with Bayside State Prison. Thanks to a similar cooperation with the officials there, Alley Cat Allies carried out TNR for 38 cats. This includes Peggy, who broke her leg after she had already been spayed and returned. One of our best trappers on staff, Stephen Garraty, took her to the veterinarian. Now Peggy is healed and has been returned to her colony.

Inmates and corrections officers have developed strong bonds with the cats at Bayside State Prison and Southern State Correctional Facility. They’re beginning to understand the intricacies of cat behavior and say that having the cats around is a positive experience for everyone involved.

When it comes to helping cats and people coexist, Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane, effective approach no matter the environment. Alley Cat Allies has carried out TNR in alleyways, behind schools, at military bases, along seaside boardwalks, and around country clubs, to name a few locations. It was no surprise that we would get involved with cats behind bars. Today, thanks to our assistance with TNR, all the cats at both facilities have been spayed, neutered, and vaccinated.

Cats live in all kinds of environments where there are available resources (i.e. food and shelter). Some of the cats at Bayside State Prison and Southern State Correctional Facility live near inmates’ living quarters, others live behind the dining area, and a few live in the barn. All the cats in the prisons are living long, healthy lives.

It’s clear from the results of our efforts with these prisons that TNR is the only choice for community cats. Alley Cat Allies is honored to take on this work and serve as a model for others to follow.