A rehabilitative program incorporates rescued dogs

Q: There is a place called “Beyond the Bars” on South Atlanta Road in Smyrna that I pass on my way into work. Would you tell me about this facility?

A: You are asking about a recent year-long program launched by Canine CellMates. This facility is considered their central location for animal care, training programs, volunteering and provides life-altering “restoration.”

Founding and Executive Director Susan Jacobs-Meadows’ son spent time in the Fulton County jail. Her love of dogs and her son’s incarceration sketched a purpose as she found a way to improve lives by combining dogs from the Fulton County Animal Services with the men behind the bars.

“While the dogs are the heart of the program, the focus is on the men as we are a rehabilitative program,” said the founder.

“Our intent is to help these men form new ideas and concepts that would allow them to make different kinds of choices when they left so that we could break the cycle of repeat incarceration,” she said.

A generous grant from Best Friend provided CCM a home enabling the expansion of services and the launch of a pre-trial diversion program called “Beyond the Bars” that centers around shelter dogs. “Working in partnership with the district attorney’s office, we carefully select eligible participants who participate post-release in a year-long rehabilitative program at our facility.”

The men are all felony offenders, most repeat, she noted. “That is where our greatest knowledge lies in terms of being able to provide programming. There are far fewer resources for that repeat felony offender and by the time somebody is on paper more than two or three times, to be honest with you, most people don’t want anything to do with them.

The program has three phases, each 90 days. Eight men are currently in the program. The plan is to have 20 participants.

The men come to the facility four half-days a week during Phase 1 where they help care for the dogs and work in a group-training environment. Rotating curriculum covers topics such as conflict resolution, emotional competence, parenting skills, effective communication and staying out of jail 101, the executive director stated.

Moving to the next phase, time at the facility will be one half-day a week. “We are hopeful and working toward when we start Phase 2 with this first group of guys that we will have a part-time counselor on staff. We plan to include some group counseling sessions, some mini-curriculum topics and they will continue to work with dogs.

“During the final 90 days they will come to our building once a month, but there will be weekly call-ins with a staff member and at that point, they have to be able to document employment or enrollment in some type of educational component. Once they finish the year-long program, their charges will be nolle prossed - they will go away,” said Jacobs-Meadows.

“I do understand that not everyone is going to be drawn to that mission. Over 90% of persons incarcerated in this country are going to return to society. Don’t we want them to return as better citizens of our community? Not the person that we send down the road for 5 years to prison and do absolutely nothing to change anything about how they think, view the world or their understanding of consequences? We should all want these kinds of changes in how we handle people who make mistakes.”

Address: 4874 South Atlanta Road, Southeast, Atlanta 30339 (located 5 miles north of the Fulton County Jail).

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/CanineCellMates/

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