By Team

KEY WEST (CBSMiami/FKNB) – A one-of-a-kind refuge managed by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in the Florida Keys benefits the animals, inmates, and the public.

The Children’s Animal Farm, on the grounds of the sheriff’s office detention center near Key West, houses about 150 domestic and exotic animals from 45 species.

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Last Sunday, the farm was open to the public for their annual Easter party complete with the “Easter Bunny,” as well as inmate trusties who introduced visiting families to resident animals.

“This is an animal sanctuary and we take in animals that have been abandoned, abused, confiscated, or donated,” said animal farm supervisor Jeanne Selander. “They come to us because they need a home, and we give them a forever home.”

Nicknamed “Farmer Jeanne,” Selander oversees a crew of selected trusties who help look after the animals. All are screened and classified as being safe to work outside the detention center and interact with the public.

“The inmates working on the farm benefit the farm because we have a workforce that can actually help care for the animals,” said Selandar. “And it’s beneficial to the inmates because they get to be outside, they get to work with the animals, they get to feel like they’re making a difference.”

Trusties feed, water, and care for animals that range from pigs and miniature horses to Kramer the emu, Cricket the armadillo, an alligator, kinkajous, a pair of lemurs, and a 70-year-old African spurred tortoise dubbed Albert. They also build habitats, paint, and repair fences.

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“It’s calming, very calming,” said trusty Michael Hernandez. “Keeps you out of trouble, keeps your mind focused. You know you’re 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 jail setting are the barbed wire atop its tall surrounding fences and the orange detention jumpsuits worn by the inmates.

Hernandez, who described himself as an “animal person,” believes he will continue to spend time at the farm even after his jail term ends.

“As a matter of fact, when I get out, I’m hoping to visit the farm to do some more work on the farm, paint some more, play with the animals some more — you know, so they won’t forget me,” he said.

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