“I love sharing my story;” Man says Canine Cellmates program put him back on the right path

Ronnie Howard looks at a photo of the Fulton County K9 cellmates dog that he says helped him...
Ronnie Howard looks at a photo of the Fulton County K9 cellmates dog that he says helped him turn his life around.(Carlos Spann)
Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 11:36 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2023 at 12:01 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Ronnie Howard runs Arid Restoration Company. But just a few years ago he would’ve never thought it was possible to own his own business.

“Those were dark days for me. I made a lot of bad decisions,” Howard said.

In 2017, Howard says he was serving time at the Fulton County Jail for theft charges related to his drug use. It wasn’t his first time behind bars, but it was his first-time meeting Susan Jacobs-Meadows.

Jacobs-Meadows runs Canine Cellmates, a program which has traditionally paired shelter dogs with inmates at the Fulton County Jail. The idea is to help inmates develop communication skills, make better choices, and take responsibility for something other than themselves.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see,” Jacobs-Meadows said.

Jacobs-Meadows got Howard involved in the program and paired him with an English bulldog, named Tyson.

“The time that I was working with him, it just it helped me see the other side to life. Then I started to think well, you know? There’s some good there. I never knew about these feelings that I had,” Howard said.

Eventually Tyson was adopted, and Howard got out of jail. But this time, he had a new perspective. That’s when he started his own contracting and restoration company.

Last year Atlanta News First reported that Canine Cellmates was looking for a new building to run their program and house their dogs after their landlord decided to sell his property. Jacobs-Meadows found a new place in West Midtown, but it needed renovations. She knew just who to call.

“To have somebody from our program that wants to help and wants to help us continue this program and wants to help more men, it’s just a great testament to the positive effects of the program and where Ronnie is in his life today,” Jacobs-Meadows said.

It all started with a dog and a mentor. Howard says now his life is changed, for good.

“I love working. I love helping people. And I love sharing my story because I’ve been through a lot. I’ve struggled a lot in life. So, I feel like if I can overcome the obstacles that I’ve overcome, then anyone can do it,” Howard said.

Due to on-going health and safety issues at the Fulton County Jail, Canine Cellmates is not currently allowed to run their program inside the facility. Instead, they are working with recently released inmates at their West Midtown facility. They’ll being a new “beyond the bars” program in September.