Long after serving in the Army during the Vietnam War, a quiet, unassuming veteran became a hero to a death row dog.
From 1961-1964, Roger served in the 25th infantry division in Hawaii in preparation to deploy to Vietnam. He was discharged before his division was sent overseas, and used his time in Hawaii to travel and marry. Eventually he and his bride left for the mainland, where Roger worked for a time as a military training instructor in Indianapolis.
Unlike his fiery, Colombian wife, Jacquie, Roger is a soft spoken man, but the pair is identical in one respect: their love of dogs. The couple hoped to add a big dog to their family because Jacquie always had them as pets on her farm in Bogota, Columbia growing up.
“Lots of dogs – big dogs,” she says.
The Army couple already had two Yorkies, Sleepy and Skippy, but felt a large breed dog would make their “happy dog” family complete. They learned about a German Shepherd mix who was on death row at a local shelter, deemed aggressive when she snapped at a worker hosing down her kennel.
That was enough to put the sweetly named Sugar Bear on the list of animals to be killed or, as is known in the animal welfare industry, “humanely euthanized.”
Last-chance dog spared death, but still homeless
When Sugar Bear was dropped off at the Lake City Humane Society, she was underweight, having had four puppies and heartworm. Once she was placed on death row, her time became extremely limited. Luckily for Sugar Bear, a North Florida rescue group that works with the shelter adopted her in order to spare her life, but it was only temporary until a forever home could be found.
It didn’t take long for the last-chance dog to meet her hero, or for Roger and his wife to fall in love with her. The minute Jacquie saw the then two-year old dog, she thought to herself, “I can’t resist a big dog!”
The Vietnam veteran reflects on the sweet name that belied Sugar Bear’s not-so-sweet life.
“It was the name she came with, she responds to it, so we kept it,” says Roger. “We didn’t want to cause her any more trouble by changing her name.”
Home sweet Sugar Bear, home
“She’s put on weight and has a nice, shiny coat,” says Jacquie, adding, “She’s shown no aggression whatsoever. Euthanizing Sugar Bear would have been a big mistake. She’s incredible.”
“She’s so affectionate with us, but she just doesn’t like water sprayed on her,” he says, recalling the incident at the kennel that almost cost Sugar Bear her life. “The person that had Sugar Bear before us has no idea the kind of dog they had. She is the sweetest girl in the world and takes good care of us.”
Since settling in to her new home Sugar Bear has made friends with Sleepy and Skippy, the couple’s Yorkshire Terriers. They all love to play in the backyard together where the “Yorkies have to run like the devil to keep up with Sugar Bear,” Roger says with a laugh.
The little dogs are adjusting in other ways, like trying to learn how to share the couple’s bed with their new big sister. Sugar Bear is very protective of Jacquie, who believes the dog knows that Jacquie is now her mother. She loves to go out for walks, which always starts with “mom” reminding the big dog who’s in charge.
“I’m taking you for a walk,” Jacquie says, “you’re not taking me.”
The Shepherd mix likes to stay close to Roger too, often using her nose to bump his hand until he scratches her. If he’s paying attention to the Yorkies, Sugar Bear lets both of them know that it’s her turn for attention.
Making pet adoption affordable for veterans
“Beth was a real find,” Roger says. “And I really appreciated the discount we got on Sugar Bear’s adoption fee and the other discounts, although I wish the veterinarian gave a larger discount than just 10%.”
Pets for Patriots is a nationwide charity that delivers the healing power of companion pets to service and veteran members of the United States military. To help these bonds endure, the organization provides a range of financial support and incentives for military personnel who save the most overlooked, at-risk dogs and cats, including discounted veterinary care from local partners. While the minimum discount for a partner is 10%, some choose to give more.
As a large breed, adult dog who is generally harder to place, Sugar Bear more than qualified for the Pets for Patriots program. Roger often recommends Pets for Patriots to veterans at his local Veterans Administration hospital.
“If they talk about wanting to adopt a pet, but they don’t have the money, I tell them about Pets for Patriots,” says Roger.
“Look how they helped us,” she beams. “I call us the happy dog family!”
How does your last-chance pet make your life joyful?