Give a little bit of your love to Catalina Stirling.
Co-Founder and Director of Jasmine’s House Rescue in Maryland, Catalina’s name entered countless American living rooms through Jim Gorant’s bestselling book about the Michael Vick dog fighting case, Lost Dogs. Catalina’s patient, loving work with Sweet Jasmine — the most shut down of the Vick dogs released to rescue — was neither the beginning nor the end of her involvement in dog rescue, but rather a pivot point.
Catalina spent six months on the enormous-yet-tiny task of coaxing Jasmine out of a hole in her back yard, and many more months celebrating baby steps together — always moving forward. It was a precious, rare, patient, selfless love. After Jasmine died unexpectedly in 2009, Catalina filled part of the hole in her heart by opening Jasmine’s House Rescue with partner Kate Callahan. They envisioned a safe and gentle place for dogs who were dealt a bad hand in life to recuperate and learn to trust once more. And they built it.
What strikes me most about the good folks at Jasmine’s House is their unwillingness to turn their backs on the hard cases — the dogs who will cost too much to heal and be too difficult to adopt out. Where most rescues make careful calculations about who they can and should take, Catalina operates — to a great extent — on courage and gut.
When I walked into the Montgomery County Humane Society last August and met Little Zee, a 9-year-old pit bull with a mysterious neurological condition, I sat with her for a long time, making promises I was not sure I could keep. My eyes welled up with tears at her likely fate, and in a last-ditch effort to be true to my word, I called Catalina. She said yes.
Little Zee was pulled by Jasmine’s, and what followed was amazing. A massive fundraiser that raised more than $4,000 toward Zee’s care, a surge of popular support for our little elderbull, a record-quick adoption, and a lasting, treasured friendship with Catalina.
Since we moved away, Jasmine’s has continued taking heroic actions to save the dogs who need it most (including our other former foster, Stevie Wonder, when she was given up by her adopters), and extended their reach beyond direct rescue and into community education. Project Mickey — a humane education program that brings Jasmine’s House dogs into inner city Baltimore schools to teach lessons about kindness to animals and each other — stands out as a particularly needed and beautiful effort.
I met up with Catalina — and rescue coordinator Heather Cole — for coffee while home in DC last week. It was lovely to catch up. Catalina and Heather told me all about their latest endeavors, their new dogs, and — unfortunately — their financial plight. True to their mission to help the dogs who draw the short straw in life, Jasmine’s House has recently taken in two very sick dogs — Sunny and Isis. Sunny has late-stage heartworm that will be sensitive and expensive to treat, and Isis has severe pneumonia — which requires intensive steam treatments, regular vet visits, and costly medication. Neither dog’s case is the dramatic kind that inspires heroic acts or donations — they are just sick dogs whose road to recovery will be long and slow, and whose vet bills are high and unexpected. For both of these lucky dogs — like for many others — Jasmine’s was the last chance.
They could have said no — they have 20 dogs in rescue, many of which have medical and behavioral issues of their own, and funding in rescue is always scarce. But they said yes.
Stories like Catalina’s remind us of the power of vision, heart, and courage to move mountains. And how beautiful it would be if vision, heart, and courage were enough to soothe all the world’s pains. But money is the magical, scarce ingredient that keeps rescue dreams afloat. The financial support of those of us who believe in this work is what keeps it going.
So if you are able, on this fine summer day, please give a little bit. The dogs thank you.