On Facebook, a rant erupted in early July, criticizing conditions at the Lincoln County jail.

Someone started the rant by saying one of the cats in the jail had ringworm and had passed it along to an inmate, plus there wasn’t enough kitty litter and the cats were making an unhealthy mess.

In a common reply to the complaint, people advised avoiding the problem by staying out of jail. And, Chief Deputy Rolly Kramer, who knows the real situation, invited the Bulletin to come take a look.

The cat is question was Big Papa, who has lived in the women’s quarters since he arrived nine years ago. He’s getting older but he’s well cared for, Kramer said.

Lincoln County Sheriff Jerome Kramer launched the “cats in jail” program shortly after the detention center opened in 2011. At the time, inmates who qualified had started helping at the city animal shelter and Kramer saw an opportunity to rescue a cat for the benefit of the inmates, something he’d had in mind for several years.

The cats provide distraction and amusement during long hours in the cells and have been shown to help reduce tension, stress and even blood pressure.

In return, the jail provides a home for the cats, who are normally caged at the shelter or euthanized.

The first three cats to be booked into the county jail were Boots, Nemo and Sarge, who were assigned to the men’s cells. Boots and Sarge have gone to greener pastures, but Nemo is still there, as engaging as ever, Kramer said.

An inmate who asked not to be named said Nemo constantly craved attention from everyone from the day he arrived.

The jail program gained national recognition not long after it began. The Animal Planet channel broadcast a program that searched for the most amazing cat stories in the U.S. Host John Fulton visited North Platte in 2011 and did the honors of personally picking out Big Papa for the women.

Fulton also wrote a song for the occasion, which says in part, “you got Big Papa to keep you strong.” In the TV video, all the women sing along.

Fulton said the first cat program in a prison was in Switzerland. Lincoln County had one of the first in the Midwest. They have become more popular.

“It mellows your soul out and calms you down,” one of the inmates said.

The sheriff and chief deputy are proud of the program as well as the overall cleanliness of the jail, where floors are mopped every day, which refutes another complaint that surfaced on the Facebook rant.

The rants themselves — the detention officers aren’t so crazy about them.