PitSisters to the Rescue

A Rescue Dog and a Prisoner Saved Each Other


PetSmart Charities Pit Sisters to the Rescue 2Jason Joseph Bertrand marvels at his dog Sugar Mama's sweet nature.

When Jason first met her last April, Sugar Mama's back was still freshly shaved from surgery. The 2-year-old Pit Bull was rescued from a dog fighting bust in Putnam County, Florida where she suffered two herniated disks.  

Even then, with that pain and that background, Sugar Mama was still "smiley," Jason says; she still had a "waggy tail."

It made Jason start to think that maybe he could be ok, too.

Jason has spent nearly a decade and a half serving time in various penitentiaries around Florida. "Five robberies," he says. "Fourteen years, nine months."

These robberies were committed shortly after Jason was released jail for an even more serious crime and he needed money to pay some bills.

In March, he was transferred to the Jacksonville Bridge Community Release Center, in Jacksonville, Florida — it's considered a "therapeutic community" where male inmates, some struggling with substance abuse, gain life and vocational skills, before release.

One of the programs at Jacksonville Bridge is called TAILS — Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills.


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TAILS, which is managed by the nonprofit Pit Sisters, pairs rescue dogs with inmates — 16 carefully selected Bridge residents care for and train eight dogs, using an Association of Professional Dog Trainers curriculum. Though the inmate selection process varies by program, no one with a history of violence, or a record indicating crimes toward animals, is allowed into the program. The inmates' behavior while incarcerated is also examined.

The dogs themselves come from high-volume shelters. "They are owner surrenders, strays, cruelty seizures," says Pit Sisters founder, Jennifer Deane.

They spend about two months training at Bridge and then they go up for adoption.“The dogs thrive while being doted on, their presence benefits everyone,” says Julian Williams manager of the TAILS program at Bridge.


PetSmart Charities Pit Sisters to the RescueAround the dogs, Bridge residents come out of their shells. "It really opens a lot of these guys up," Julian says. "That's why I love this program. To see how these guys change. To put someone before them for the first time in their life."

Julian can personally attest to how well this all works because he adopted a TAILS dog, named Cholo, last January who joins him for inmate visits.

"He took well living here because of all the attention and love. It's just something that these dogs are not used to seeing. A hundred and something guys here showing them attention," he says. Sugar Mama is spoken for already, too. Jason plans to adopt her when he is released in December. The two of them will then be free, together.



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“Being with Sugar Mama has made me more optimistic and kinder,” says Jason. “She's given me hope.” He expects when he and Sugar Mama leave Bridge and start their new lives, she'll help him stay that way. "I'm sure there will be days I'm going to feel stupid and slow. It's going to be stressful and I'm going to feel like I don't belong,” says Jason. “I can always just bounce back on Sugar Mama and center myself. After all she’s been through, if she can be a happy little animal then why can't I?"







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