Skip to content Skip to navigation

From chained to cherished

Maryland group provides rehab and loving homes for dogfighting victims

From Animal Sheltering magazine September/October 2014

Kate Callahan (right) and other Jasmine’s House volunteers pose with Rudy.

When Sweet Jasmine was rescued in the 2007 raid of football player Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation, she was so terrified that she spent the first days after her rescue hiding in a little tent inside her kennel at the Washington Animal Rescue League. After Catalina Stirling adopted her, for a while the dog had to be carried outside for bathroom breaks, so frightened was she of the world that—until then—hadn’t treated her well.

But through kindness and clicker training, Stirling brought the dog out of her shell. Though Sweet Jasmine passed away in 2009, her memory lives on in the work of Jasmine’s House, the rescue group that Stirling and Kate Callahan co-founded in 2010 to transform dogfighting victims into beloved family pets.

Powered by eight core volunteers and a network of foster homes across the Washington, D.C., metro area, Jasmine’s House has placed more than 210 rescued dogs to date. An affiliated group called Handsome Dan’s operates in Rhode Island, and a new branch of Jasmine’s House near Salt Lake City is taking shape.

Last year, after The HSUS helped authorities seize 367 dogs from fighting operations in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, Callahan and other Jasmine’s House volunteers assisted at the HSUS-run temporary shelter. They helped teach the dogs to trust humans and then worked to find foster homes and permanent families in Maryland for five canines, including anxious Campbell, people-pleasing Rudy and clever Addison.

Campbell has the most adjusting to do in his new life because of his sensitivity. Seeing kids next door hitting a piñata upset his digestion for days. A beeping truck scared him into his crate for an entire morning. Helping Campbell cope is a full-time job for his foster parent, but she expects him to succeed with guidance from Jasmine’s House.

Rudy, meanwhile, quickly made friends with the shepherd mixes at his foster home. He is gaining confidence and thriving in obedience school. As for Addison, a Maryland couple noticed her personality and adopted her. They plan to train her as a therapy dog—a far cry from her days on a chain—and Callahan foresees that Addison will change perceptions of dogfighting survivors with every person she meets.

“There is no formula, no prescribed way” to help the victims of dogfighting, says Callahan. Jasmine’s House volunteers work closely with foster caretakers and prescribe individual training programs and exercises for each dog. “Their devotion to the dogs in their care is without bounds,” says Daisy Balawejder, HSUS dogfighting rescue coalition coordinator.

They’re spreading the message to kids, too. Through Project Mickey, an after-school program developed with a school psychologist, Jasmine’s House volunteers teach Baltimore elementary school children compassion for animals. An ill, neglected puppy who came to Jasmine’s House gave her name to this initiative, which aims to tackle the root causes of cruelty.

“This is work that we are passionate about,” says Callahan, “and we are honored to help victims coming from that degree of cruelty.”

About the Author

Catherine Hess is a former Web Editor at The Humane Society of the United States.