Animals & Inmates Help Each Other in the Florida Keys

sloth check up
“Moe” the sloth is an education ambassador, frequenting community events and schools to help teach about animals. (Note: I am not an inmate.)

One of my favorite places on the planet is a little farm situated under the Monroe County jail just outside Key West, Florida. Every single animal at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm is there for the long haul, having been abandoned by their owners or confiscated due to illegal trafficking or abuse cases. The critters include rescued exotics, livestock and native animals.

kramer the emu
“Kramer” the emu is aptly named for a curly lock of feathers atop his iridescent head that resembles the Seinfeld character.

But what warms my heart even more about this place is the restorative justice being employed. Inmates exhibiting good behavior during their sentence term are candidates for animal caretakers. The program offers them the opportunity to perform meaningful community service that reciprocally helps them as much as it helps the creatures they’re attending to. It melts my soul to see a stocky, tattooed guy in an orange jumpsuit doting over a llama or an emu, and to listen to the inmates educating the public about the animals during the two Sundays a month that the farm is open to visitors.

skunk cuddling
“Chanel” is a de-scented ex-pet skunk. Skunks use their scent glands as a defense mechanism and so for this reason, along with Chanel’s reliance upon humans for food and safety, she would not survive if released into the wild. And, yes, she needs to go on a diet.

While working in the veterinary field in the Florida Keys, I had the unique opportunity to assist with the animal care at the facility. Farmer Jeanne runs the center, and about once a month, she calls for a vet check-up at the zoo. Some of the vet visits are less than routine, involving hoof trimming, shearing, vaccinations or surgery.

alligator holding.jpg
Baby alligators need loving, too!

One of the rescued llamas was in line for getting his coat sheared during my visit with the vet. For the animal’s safety–llamas are so crazy with restraint they’ll hurt themselves–we sedated him. I switched back and forth with another vet assistant to monitor the breathing and heart rate while the patient was under sedation. And got some llama cuddling in while I had the opportunity!

llama shearing

If you find yourself in the Keys on the second or fourth Sunday of the month, be sure to make a visit to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm in Stock Island, just before Key West. It’s great for kids, couples and singles. Something truly wonderful is happening here; it gives me hope in all kinds of second chances.



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