Jason + Sugar Mama

Dog’s happy nature teaches former prisoner how to transition back into society

Jason + Sugar Mama

I have spent a lot of time incarcerated. I have served 14 years and 10 months of a 15-year minimum mandatory sentence. I’ve grown up behind bars.

But this story isn’t just about me; it’s about my dog Sugar Mama, the cutest and most lovable dog I’ve ever known. It took a while for her to trust me enough to lay next to me or lick my head until I’m practically bald.

That’s because Sugar Mama was rescued from a pit bull fighting ring, where she was used and abused for entertainment and profit. She was locked in cramped crates in the woods. She suffered a broken back. It’s such unfair treatment for an animal meant to be man’s best friend.

"It breaks my heart to think of how people could neglect and mistreat this amazing dog"

Despite everything, she passes no judgment and holds no grudges. She still wants to please her master, which she shows by wagging her tail and being excited to see me after a long day.

This dog changed my life over the last five months. Being in prison has made me somewhat calloused and hard, yet Sugar Mama melts my heart.

Former Fighting Dog Brings Happiness to Man Behind Bars

TAILS is an acronym for Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills, and this could not be truer. A thought crossed my mind one day while watching Sugar Mama play. She was happy, and I said to myself, how could an animal who suffered so much be so happy, yet I was still so mad? We were both one and the same, me and Sugar Mama, both abused, both locked up, mistreated, abandoned and bruised. Why can’t I be happy too?

If I had not been involved in the TAILS program, I may not have had the opportunity to learn the responsibility and compassion necessary to transition into a free society.

Without this program provided by Pit Sisters and The Jacksonville Bridge Therapeutic Community (TC), both Sugar Mama and I might still be hurting. But we’ve found love and companionship with each other and a safe place where we’re both needed and appreciated. The TC taught me valuable lifelong lessons about addictions, anger and my emotional well-being, which allowed me to freely and unconditionally love Sugar Mama and myself. She may only be a dog to some, but to me, she has been my saving grace.

Each year, the Petco Love invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by Jason Bertrand won Pit Sisters in Jacksonville, Florida a 2016 Holiday Wishes award.

Note: TAILS (Teaching Animals & Inmates Life Skills) is a program operated by Pit Sisters to bring together prison inmates and hard-to-adopt shelter dogs. Pit Sisters assesses dogs at city shelters to find those who need training and socialization and who are at risk of euthanasia. They transport these dogs to multiple correctional facilities in the United States where inmates train, socialize and care for the dogs to the mutual benefit of both.