CSS with Cat

Prison Programs

The ARL has a relationship with a state prison to share one goal - to help people and pets.

Community Suport ServicesThe ARL developed a new program in 2017 as part of our partnership with the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. Community Support Services (CSS) allows offenders who are nearing the ends of their sentences to work alongside ARL staff seven days a week to help care for the animals. We’ve seen inmates who have been at their lowest find pride in their work and see hope for their future. The animals have benefited too, as they are surrounded daily with people who care for them.

In addition to the Community Support Services program, we have developed additional programs that operate out of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women facility.

Whiskers ProgramWHISKERS

Our Whiskers program has been changing lives for homeless cats since its launch in May 2017. The program matches behaviorally challenged cats with offenders who work one-on-one with them inside the prison to rehabilitate them and prepare them for adoption into forever homes. By the end of 2017, approximately 20 caretakers helped 41 cats/kittens, and the program resulted in 14 adoptions.

Paws ProgramPAWS

As of fall 2017, our dogs are also benefiting from our partnership with the Mitchellville facility. In the PAWS program, dogs work with offenders inside the prison to learn basic manners and get a great start on training before they’re adopted into new homes. By the end of 2017, 22 dogs had been trained in the program.


Feral cats are among the most at-risk groups in shelters across the country, and the solution to saving these cats requires a multifaceted approach. One part of this solution is a successful adoption program for cats who are not suitable for an in-home adoption. These cats have spent their entire lives outside of a home environment but can be successfully adopted as barn cats, shop cats, or other “mouser” jobs. We call our adoption program for these cats “Camp Purr.”

In 2018 we completed not one, but three new transitional housing projects called “Catty Shacks” where these cats can continue to live in an indoor/outdoor environment with regular food and care while they wait to be adopted through our Camp Purr program. Catty Shack I is located inside the Women’s Correctional Facility in Mitchellville where the offenders care for the cats, and Catty Shacks II & III are located on the ARL’s main campus.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs significantly reduce the number of cats who are thriving in their communities from ever entering a shelter in the first place. The ARL is working with local governments to legalize TNR programs in Des Moines and surrounding communities – and we hope to be able to share news of that success very soon!