Dog training

Smyrna dog training program aims to reduce incarceration

Nov 18 – SMYRNA – Iman has had his share of pre-trial diversion programs in his life and never really thought about it.

“A lot of times in programs like this they just want to get us in and out. And so do we,” the College Park native told MDJ on Tuesday. “But this place … it’s a learning path. It’s priceless.”

Iman is one of seven members of the inaugural Canine Cellmates training class, which pairs men awaiting trial with shelter dogs in regular classes and training sessions. Dogs, often from the worst of circumstances, are trained to be loyal and obedient companions. The men train dogs and take personal skills classes to ease their transition into society, and at the end of the program their criminal charges are dismissed or reduced, much like a liability court.

“I feel like they care about us,” Iman added after completing the exercises with Tundra, a Pointer-Pit Bull mix. “It is essential.”

Susan Jacobs-Meadows started creating the program almost 10 years ago and, as she puts it, “I don’t think people do that kind of work if they don’t have a story.” Her son had struggled with heroin addiction, mental health issues, and had spent time “locked up in all of the Metro Atlanta jails.”

Face to face with the realities of incarceration, Jacobs-Meadows began working with the Fulton County Jail Drug and Alcohol Program Officer. She convinced him to support his campaign for a pilot program, which aroused skepticism from the sheriff’s office.

“We were not welcome. It is not a culture that in any form reflected anything the Fulton County Jail had ever done or thought possible,” she said. . “We took the (inmates) to the (animal) shelter, and the command staff… said, ‘What do you want to do? “”

But mutual trust has slowly set in, as has a partnership with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office (Canine Cellmates hope to partner with Cobb District Attorney Flynn Broady starting next year).

Then last year, Best Friends Animal Society – a national nonprofit animal welfare organization – offered Canine Cellmates a grant to move into a 16,000 square foot building on South Atlanta Street in Smyrna.

The new facility now has a kennel for up to 40 dogs, storage space, training room, basic veterinary facilities and office space for staff and volunteers. from the Association. All of this work, of course, takes a lot of resources, and Jacobs-Meadows encouraged readers to consider supporting the group through donating, volunteering, or adopting a dog.

“We will generally provide clothing, toiletries, food, MARTA fares, job leads, referrals and assistance in accessing drug addiction programs or transitional housing,” as is the case in Atlanta, ”adds Jacobs-Meadows. “It was difficult for me to do it effectively when I always had to meet them where they were – driving on English Avenue at 9 o’clock at night and whatever. Now we have a place they can come.”

Jacobs-Meadows said the organization typically tries to work with men between the ages of 30 and 50, with three to five previous felony convictions. She found that these men were old enough to feel ready to change the course of their lives, without feeling too old to change.

She is also a firm believer in positive reinforcement and completely bans punitive training methods in her programs.

“The biggest lesson is that we want them to learn that you can achieve positive results without threats, intimidation or force,” she said.

Kelvin, entering his dog, Blazer, joked, “I think I learn more than the dog. Patience is one of the keys to understanding them.”

He later added: “Long story short, I was incarcerated and about to look for a way out… I had a few other options, but that option sounded more – it was new, you know?” he added. “The next step is just to work full time and stuff like that, get back on track completely. “

Iman, meanwhile, said he has already chosen his next career: dog trainer.

“I try to go all the way,” he said with a laugh. “It’s something that I can do for the rest of my life, that I can take with me,… and if I can train her (Tundra), I feel like I can train any dog. “

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