KEY WEST (CBSMiami/FKNB) — A one-of-a-kind shelter operated by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in the Florida Keys benefits animals, inmates and the public.
The Children’s Animal Farm, on the grounds of the Sheriff’s Office Detention Center near Key West, is home to approximately 150 domestic and exotic animals of 45 species.
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Last Sunday, the farm was open to the public for their annual Easter celebration with the ‘Easter Bunny’, as well as inmate trustees who introduced the visiting families to the resident animals.
“This is an animal sanctuary and we take in animals that have been abandoned, abused, confiscated or donated,” animal farm manager Jeanne Selander said. “They come to us because they need a home, and we give them a forever home.”
Nicknamed “The Farmer Jeanne”, Selander oversees a team of select trustees who help care for the animals. All are vetted and rated as safe to work outside the detention center and interact with the public.
“Inmates who work on the farm benefit the farm because we have a workforce that can actually help take care of the animals,” Selandar said. “And it’s beneficial for the inmates because they can be outside, they can work with the animals, they feel like they’re making a difference.”
Worshipers feed, water and care for animals ranging from miniature pigs and horses to Kramer the emu, Cricket the armadillo, an alligator, kinkajous, a pair of lemurs and a 70-year-old African spurred tortoise nicknamed Albert. They also build habitats, paint and repair fences.
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“It’s soothing, very soothing,” the stalwart Michael Hernandez said. “Keeps you out of trouble, keeps your mind focused. You know you are in the outside world.
The unique facility is usually open to the public on the second and fourth Sundays of each month.
The only indications of the farm’s prison setting are the barbed wire atop its high surrounding fences and the orange detention suits worn by inmates.
Hernandez, who has described himself as an “animal person,” believes he will continue to spend time on the farm even after his prison term ends.
“Actually, when I get out, I hope to visit the farm to do more farm work, paint some more, play with the animals some more – you know, so they don’t forget me,” he said.
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