When Susan Jacobs-Meadows, director of the Canine CellMates program, answered a phone call from a “client,” she had an uneasy feeling. Her clients have spent time in the Fulton County Jail, and with Georgia’s recidivism rate of 43 percent within a three-year period (as reported by the Pew Research Center in 2004), she wasn’t wrong to be concerned. What she encountered instead was the voice of the other 57 percent.
“I just want to say thank you. Thank you for letting me be in your program … for everything I learned … for everything you’ve done for me since I got out … for helping me believe I could live a life that had better choices and that I deserved more than I was giving myself,”said Orenthal. He explained to Susan that a former friend had recently been arrested in a large-scale drug bust … and he recognized that he could have been there too, had it not been for Canine CellMates.
Susan started the program after learning about similar efforts in other parts of the country and, by 2013, had developed this partnership in conjuction with Fulton County’s Sheriff’s Department, Fulton County Jail and Fulton County Animal Services in hopes of creating a lasting positive change in the inmates as part of an effort to reduce recidivism. For eight intensive weeks, select inmates are given the chance to educate, train and care for shelter dogs. The ultimate end goal of the program for the dogs is to help them pass the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test and find a welcoming home.
The Canine CellMates program strives for a happy ending for both man and beast. Navigating the world as a convicted felon is no easy feat. Cellmates that display particular dedication to the program and achieve significant progress can, upon their release,“graduate” to an aftercare program by Canine CellMates, which assists them with housing, food and job placement through the support of caring volunteers.
Volunteers are crucial to the success of both inmate and aftercare portions of the Canine CellMates program. There are always opportunities to help with adoption coordination, dog fostering, dog transportation, community outreach, program coordinating, event planning and fundraising.