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Canine Cellmates: Beyond the Bars nonprofit facing eviction, searching for new home

Canine Cellmates: Beyond the Bars is the first of its kind in Georgia and offers a second chance for incarcerated men and rescue animals.

ATLANTA — A nonprofit in metro Atlanta said its future is in trouble as it's facing eviction in the building that's housing a community program.

Canine Cellmates: Beyond the Bars is the first of its kind in Georgia and offers a second chance for incarcerated men and rescue animals. The jail dog program works with the Fulton County Sheriff's Office and the county jail to help with rehabilitation and the reduction of recidivism while training shelter dogs and preparing them for a forever home. Beyond the Bars is an extension of its original program which focuses on out-of-custody individuals.

Beyond the Bars currently houses 20 dogs and lots of hope for the men who rely on their new four-legged friends.

Roosevelt Micher said he has found a lot of compassion for his partner Jazzy in the program.

"Being locked up in those cages is like being in jail to me. Wanting to be free, but being caged up," he said about the dogs he interacts with.

Beyond the Bars allows incarcerated men to get out of prison if they complete the yearlong program, which wipes the offense from their record.

Founder Susan Chamber-Meadows just held a graduation ceremony for the first six men to complete the program.  

"Society cast you to the side and she didn't. When society casts you to the side, she opens her arms," Micher said.

Chamber-Meadows' vision has touched the lives of several people who hoped for a second chance. Now she's hoping Beyond the Bars will get another chance to change lives too. She said she was notified by their landlord last month they would have to leave. 

"It's terrifying, it's stressful, and it has devastating results if we can't get what we need," Chamber-Meadows said.

She points to the real estate market, saying the past six months have made it less attractive for landlords to rent to nonprofits when higher-paying businesses are now looking for commercial buildings to rent. 

"We have 20 dogs in our care, and I don't know where they are going to go. We have men in this program who are currently mandated by the court. I don't want them to have to go back to court to get a different disposition," Chamber-Meadows said.

She said they're up against a tight deadline: the landlord told them they all have to be out of the building by Jan. 1.

But if anyone can find a way, Micher said Chamber-Meadows can.

"You just have to find another route. When one door shuts, you just have to search for another door," he said.

Beyond the Bars is searching all over Fulton County for another commercial property that's zoned for animal use and said it's working with Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts to try and find their new home.

To learn more about Canine Cellmates click here.

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