A Pit Bull left deaf from abuse as a bait dog opens minds and hearts in the military family who saved her. And in return she shows that love and forgiveness are possible even after enduring the darkest side of life.
A family tradition of service to country
Jason always knew he would join the military. A duty to serve ran in the family. His father and uncle were both Marines, one of his grandfathers and various cousins served in the Army, and his other grandfather was in the Navy.
Jason followed his father and enlisted in the Marines. He could have been placed just about anywhere, but he found himself in Twentynine Palms, California, where his father was stationed and where Jason lived for part of his childhood. He spent his 22nd birthday in boot camp.
“Now I have a little more appreciation for it,” he says, adding “the desert was actually pretty in the springtime when it was in bloom.”
There in the desert Jason worked as a 2147 LAV (Light Armored Vehicle) technician, which he describes as a “diesel mechanic working on armored assault vehicles.”
After two years of service Jason was honorably discharged due to a leg injury. He spent the last 20 years using his skills as a mechanic to work on Class 8 vehicles and equipment.
During their spare time Jason and his wife, Heidi, volunteer at their local animal shelter, Humane Society of Richland County. The Marine veteran even does maintenance on their vehicles pro bono.
“I donate my labor to free up money for the animals,” he says.
It started with a walk
Since volunteering at the shelter Jason has learned the stories of many of the animals in their care. It is there that he learned that the Humane Society of Richland County has partnered with Pets for Patriots since 2012.
The hard luck stories touch Jason the most.
“I have a big heart for the bad cases,” he says.
There was one particular dog who captivated the Marine veteran.
A Pit Bull named Skye entered the shelter with a horrific history. She had been used a bait dog in a dog fighting ring and had the scars to prove it. Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It persists as a cruel form of “entertainment” despite the efforts of law enforcement and animal welfare organizations to stop it.
Skye was in terrible shape. Jason remembers that the then five year-old dog had only about 30 percent of her coat. Nearly every bone in her body was visible due to severe malnourishment.
Jason was inspired to care for Skye during her time in the shelter. After months of spending lunchtime together for training sessions and long walks, the Marine veteran could no longer bear that Skye was homeless.
“I called my wife and told her, ‘I can’t go out and work with her and then put her back in her room, so I’m going to bring her home and see how it works out.’”
After taking the deaf bait dog home that day, Jason never put Skye back in her kennel again.
Of love and forgiveness
Jason already had two rescue dogs in his family. Brody was removed from a neglectful home and spent 450 days at the shelter. And Sassy the Yorkie was surrendered by a caring, elderly woman who could no longer care for her.
“Skye was our most recent and most surprising,” he says. “She needed a home that had understanding and patience. Skye did not have a good start at life.”
The abused Pit Bull found the home she desperately needed. Yet, the match was not one Jason ever expected to make. When he was younger he witnessed a loose Pit Bull attack a child. Until he met Skye he remained mistrustful of the breed.
“Growing up I always had a phobia of Pit Bulls.”
But Skye has helped the Marine veteran understand that Pit Bulls are not innately dangerous dogs. In fact, Jason was so moved by this deaf bait dog that he and Heidi spoke up at their local council meetings in opposition to breed specific legislation. These laws focus on breed, not deed, and uniformly ban the various dog breeds that are collectively known as Pit Bulls.
“She changed my opinion on Pit Bulls,” Jason confesses. “She’s probably the most loving, affectionate dog I’ve seen in my life.”
It would be understandable if Skye was a mistrusting and hateful animal. She was abused ruthlessly by people and brutalized by other animals, themselves victims of the dog fighting trade.
Yet the deaf bait dog has nothing but love to give – to both the two- and four-legged members of her pack. She enjoys being buddies with the family’s other two rescues, Brody and Sassy, as well.
“She doesn’t have any aggression,” Jason says, impressed with Skye’s capacity for forgiveness. “Skye is the most loving animal I have ever adopted.”
Left for dead, once-abused Pit Bull now lives large
To say that everything in Skye’s world has changed is an understatement.
The ebony-coated Pit Bull is spoiled to bits by Jason, Heidi, and their kids. She enjoys ladles of gravy over her dog food on Sundays, sunbathing on the porch, cuddling on the couch, and taking up most of Jason and Heidi’s California king bed.
“If you don’t beat her to the bed,” he laughs, “you will have to fight for a spot.”
They are simple pleasures that mean everything to a deaf bait dog left for dead.
“She had such a rough life in the beginning,” Jason notes, “and she’s kind of making up for it.”
Deaf bait dog with a “sixth sense”
Jason describes Skye as a “typical” dog despite everything that has happened to her and the challenges of being deaf. She knows hand commands and has found ways to communicate with everyone in the family. Most remarkably, she instinctively comforts Jason’s wife, Heidi, when she has a seizure.
“Skye, although deaf, seems to have a sixth sense,” Heidi shares. “You see, I have epilepsy. It doesn’t matter where she is at in the house. Whenever I begin to have a seizure, she promptly comes to my feet and doesn’t leave me. It’s amazing. She’s the best dog I’ve ever had.”
Jason has witnessed first hand Skye’s remarkable ability to sense Heidi’s seizures.
“My wife was on the couch and having a seizure,” he recalls, “and Skye sat on her feet and leaned against her legs until the seizure was over.”
Skye’s empathy and resilience has touched everyone in this military family. In addition to being the sweet and cuddly couch-hog they all adore, she is nothing short of a four-legged inspiration. Jason takes an important lesson from this deaf bait dog.
“Anyone can go through a really bad situation and still be okay.”
Spreading the word about companion pet adoption
Jason’s daughter is in the Navy as well, following a long family tradition. She helped put together a canvas with photos of the family’s three dogs, each accompanied by their names and paw prints. They still have Skye’s “before” photos, and Jason says the contrast gives them perspective.
“We like to see how far they’re come along,” he says.
Jason learned about Pets for Patriots and our partnership with Humane Society of Richland County from a flier at the shelter.
“Everybody we’ve dealt with, and at our shelter, has been wonderful. When I decided to adopt Skye I decided to give Pets for Patriots a shot,” he says.
And since Jason continues to volunteer at the shelter he encourages other veterans to adopt through our partnership as well.
“I don’t hesitate to mention Pets for Patriots to veterans I see walk into the shelter.”
Eyes wide open
The Marine veteran knew little about the dark world that nearly killed his beloved Skye. Since adopting the deaf bait dog he has a completely different perspective on Pit Bulls.
“It has opened my eyes to some of the issues people have with Pit Bulls,” he says, “it’s not the Pit Bulls themselves, it is the people who have them.”
Skye is such a good dog that Jason finds it hard to pinpoint one thing he loves most about her.
“She’s entertaining, loving, and affectionate,” he says.
But perhaps what matters most is how this dog, abused and abandoned, makes her military family feel.
“Even when you have a bad day she’s always happy to see you.”