A correctional officer at Avenal State Prison allegedly kicked a feral kitten, injuring the animal so badly that it had to be taken to a veterinarian.
The kitten is now being cared for at the home of a female correctional officer and the allegation of animal abuse is under investigation, said Lt. Michael Tuntakit, a prison spokesman.
Tuntakit said prison administrators do not know if an employee injured the kitten, but “if it was a staff member, we’ll hold that staff member accountable,” he said.
Avenal State Prison has had a feral cat colony for three decades. About 15 years ago, a population control program involving trapping, neutering and releasing the animals was put into place, but officials halted the program.
Judith Shipstad of Los Gatos said she received a letter from inmate Richard Sandoval dated Sept. 4 describing what had happened at the prison’s C yard. She emailed part of the letter to The Bee.
If it was a staff member, we’ll hold that staff member accountable.
Lt. Michael Tuntakit, Avenal State Prison
“One of the cops here … was walking and then kicked the baby kitten about 20 feet up in the air and broke its back left leg,” Sandoval wrote. “The poor baby can’t walk. He tries with three legs but then falls over and lays there and cries. We can’t get to it because he’s behind a chain-linked fence, so he’s helpless and in pain. I try to feed him and he just cries. I feel so bad for him. I prayed for him. The other inmates are trying to get the cop that did that to be held accountable for what he did. There were inmates who seen him do it. I was told by other inmates. I didn’t see it myself, but I did see the poor kitty afterwards.”
Shipstad said she feeds feral cats and contacted Feral Paws Rescue Group in Fresno in hopes it would take an interest in the situation.
Paula Hunsaker of Fresno is active in the rescue group, which operates a no-kill shelter in Fresno. She is also a retired correctional officer who worked at Avenal State Prison for many years.
Hunsaker said she called the prison to find out the status of the cat and was told that a staff member had taken the animal to a veterinarian in Hanford. She said she tried to verify that information by contacting veterinarians in Hanford and Lemoore and would like proof that the animal is alive and being cared for.
The poor baby can’t walk. He tries with three legs but then falls over and lays there and cries.
Richard Sandoval, inmate
She also contacted Avenal animal control and was informed that no report had been taken on the alleged incident.
A representative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Friday that the animal rights group learned of the allegation and sent a message to the warden and spoke with a corrections department official in Sacramento.
“It’s extremely concerning,” said Kristin Rickman, emergency response division manager for PETA. “We’ll be following up. We’d like to find out what happened. We’d like assurances that it won’t happen again.”