When Jeanne Selander walks into work at the county jail on Stock Island, her “inmates” are happy to see her.
“They talk to me,” Selander said. “You just have to listen.”
Selander is the Monroe County Sherriff’s Animal Farm supervisor. Most of her “inmates” have four legs — goats, miniature horses, sloths, pigs, a kinkajou. Etc. To many of her county jail inmate helpers, and to the children and parents that show up regularly at the twice-monthly open house at the farm, she is affectionately known as “Farmer Jeanne.”
Selander has been “Farmer Jeanne” for eight years. She took over the reins of the two-third acre farm beneath the jail and began to accept abandoned animals, animals set free on the streets of the Florida Keys, abused pets or animals confiscated by the sheriffs. And some are donated.
“People will buy a pot belly pig for a pet,” she points toward a pen with two large pigs. “They’re small, very smart and cute,” she shakes her head. “When they realize how big the pig will get, they seem surprised. They need space. They need a farm. Some end up here.”
The county sheriff’s farm falls under the jurisdiction of the USDA and Selander has to follow its guidelines. With those rules in mind, she decides what animals she can take and what animals she feels she can care for properly.
“Doug Mader has been the veterinarian of record for 15 years,” Selander said. “The USDA requires the animals have a vet visit every six months. Doctor Mader comes monthly.”
The animals are healthy, but still require attention. For example, one of the farm’s goats was recently neutered. The veterinarian also sees that each animal’s shots are up to date.
“If the animal comes in with a name, I keep it. If not, I give it a name, usually trying to choose a name the children visiting will relate to. Something from one of the cartoon movies or TV,” Selander said.
In many cases, Selander designs and writes up a small information sheet on the animals and places it by the pen, so visitors can learn a little about the exotic animals as well as well-known animals like horses and goats.
Selander said one of the most popular animals during any open house is the sloth.
“The sloth is a rainforest animal and it hangs from the trees,” she said. “I often take one of our two sloths with me to events in parks throughout the Keys. Kids and adults love the sloth.”
The other popular animal with children is the baby alligator.
“I’m the only one that handles the animals,” Selander said and laughed. “People often tell me what a great job I have.”
As the only paid employee at the animal farm, Selander has a lot of responsibility.
“I worry about the animals, when I’m gone,” she said after mentioning she’d finally taken a short vacation. “The inmates that work with me daily, take care of the feeding and care of the animals when I’ve off or gone on vacation. I still worry.”
The emu at the animal farm has a unique story of how it got here.
“An emu rancher offered us one for free,” Selander said. “Better than free, we got an egg! When the egg hatched we got the emu baby only four days old and it’s been raised here on the farm for the last six years. We’re the only family she’s ever known.”
The animal farm holds its open house the second and fourth Sunday of each month, 1 – 3 pm. Selander said it’s the sheriff’s gift to the community because it exists almost solely on donations paid in lieu of admission. The farm also receives a small percentage of the inmate welfare fund (profits from the jail commissary that sells incidentals) and the money goes towards the feed bill. The rest of the budget comes from special events that attracts as many as 800 farm-goers.
“We put on a fundraiser for Easter and Christmas. The farm is still free to attend, but we have photos with the Easter Bunny and Santa. For Easter we place about seven to eight hundred Easter Eggs for the kids,” she said.
Home Depot has stepped up recently and donates time and supplies for the event to help build small items with the children during the fundraiser.
“We get upward to 850 people for these events,” Selander said.
The animal farm also provides a therapeutic measure for inmates.
“Rec time the inmates call it,” she said.