Canine CellMates move to Cobb County

By Mark Woolsey

A program that uses animal shelter dogs to rehabilitate inmates at Fulton County Jail has established a physical presence in Cobb County and may explore the possibility of expanding its services here.

Canine CellMates has helped over 400 prison residents by partnering with Rescue Animals. Inmates work with selected dogs during a 10 week course to prepare them for adoption. The program also includes courses to teach program participants professional and social skills ranging from financial literacy, budgeting and resume writing to critical thinking, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.

The program has been operating in Fulton County since 2013, but has not had a permanent home so far.

“I’ve heard a rumor that the Best Friends Animal Society is abandoning their Atlanta building,” said Susan Jacobs-Meadows, executive director of Canine CellMates.

“It happened over a weekend,” she said. “On Monday, I called Utah (their national headquarters) to speak to someone.”

Jacobs-Meadows said that after months of negotiations, the local group landed what they called a “generous” grant from Best Friends to move into the building next to Atlanta Road, just across the road. ‘inside I-285.

“We were moved by their mission because we also believe in the healing power of dogs,” said Fraily Rodriguez of the Best Friends group, who abandoned her local building during the pandemic and switched to a family-based model. ‘Home.

Jacobs-Meadows said the physical presence would help in a number of ways.

“We were (before) mainly that intangible social media presence that appeared in people’s news feeds,” she said. “This will give us more support and give us more credibility and notoriety. “

Jacobs-Meadows said other benefits include having a physical space to house dogs participating in the program, instead of housing them remotely and providing the CCM with a place to conduct their follow-up program, instead of ” having to meet former participants in various places in the community.

She said this may be an uncertain proposition as a considerable proportion of inmates released from Fulton Prison do not have a stable living environment to return to.

It will also provide a home for a new pre-trial diversion program called “Beyond Bars” which will be coordinated by the Fulton District Attorney’s Office. It will be the first such program in the country to focus on shelter dogs, officials said.

Men who are referred to the program will come to the new headquarters four days a week for 90 days, take a series of obedience classes and work on dog socialization.

Jacobs-Meadows said participants will be vetted and the program will be run as a court of liability. In the accountability court model, successful program results in dismissal of charges or avoidance of jail time.

Either way, Jacobs-Meadows said, working closely with animals is essential.

“Our program is rehabilitation, not vocational training,” she said. “Dogs are the magic of our program.

“These men are on average their third crime. By the time someone has been arrested and incarcerated while they have it, they have a very thick wall around them for the purpose of self-preservation, ”said Jacobs-Meadows,

The program, she said, helps inmates take care of “something outside of themselves” and begin to value themselves as well.

Without having specific data, she estimates that the participants’ recidivism rate is much lower than the average rate of about 70% in the metro Atlanta area in two years for those released. Jacobs-Meadows thinks it could reach 20 percent for them.

She said that while Best Friends’ grant should allow them to cover most of their first year’s rental payments for the new facility, the program will need to raise between $ 3 and $ 400,000 per year.

She said once the transition to the new seat is complete, they will look to expand the program to other prisons in the county, including Cobb.


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