A First-Rate Tale of Second Chances

Lying in her kennel, Jasmine was a mess, but lucky for her someone saw a special spark.

“You don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little.”

From the 2003 movie about the racehorse Seabiscuit, a comeback champion

Lying in her kennel at the Orange County Animal Care Center in Orange, Calif., Jasmine was simply a mess.

“The shelter staff had this very obese Golden Retriever listed as age 4, but those were four very difficult years,” recalls Janette Thomas, who was there scouting for dogs to train for her Pups and Wards, or PAW, program, which teaches vocational and life skills to juvenile wards at a correctional facility.

Due to severe neglect, Jasmine had swollen and infected ears, and heavy calluses on her elbows, probably caused by living outdoors on concrete. Her shins were covered with sores and knobby granulomas from her obsessive licking due to stress. And at 115 pounds, she could barely turn around in her kennel.

But Thomas saw a spark.

“Despite her neglected and painful state, Jasmine was delighted when I opened the kennel door and took her for a brief walk,” Thomas says. “I was confident that with some TLC and dedicated training, we could rectify her medical issues and find a home for this sweet and loving dog.”

Finding the best purpose for a dog is key to a successful adoption, and this is where fate intervened.

“While Jasmine was making great progress in our training program, I received a call from a friend who told me about a special mom in Southern California who was looking for a dog for her son, who suffers from cerebral palsy,” Thomas says.

That mom was Denier Vandergon. “I am hearing-impaired and have a nonverbal child,” Vandergon says. “My 10-year-old son Desmon needed a companion, and I needed a set of ears, but I didn’t have time to train a dog, and I didn’t want a puppy.”

A meeting was arranged, and Thomas brought along her rescued chocolate Labrador Retriever, Bailey, a certified seizure-alert service dog.

“Desmon is nonverbal and unable to walk, but hopped around his living room, on his knees, and made lots of happy, squeaky noises when Bailey and I went to meet him,” Thomas says.

Thomas knew that Jasmine’s loving personality and desire to please would be a great match, but she still needed to be trained.

“During my next training session at Orange County’s Juvenile Hall, I told the program participants about Denier and Desmon,” she says. “They were very excited about the prospect of finding Jasmine a loving home and very committed to making sure she would complete her training program with flying colors!”

During the 10 weeks of training, Jasmine lost 30 pounds, and many of her wounds healed.

“The first time we met Jasmine — I call her Jaz — was when we picked her up at Juvenile Hall,” Vandergon says, recalling the day back in April 2012. “She immediately walked over and started licking Desmon. The two boys who had trained Jasmine were so proud as my son just got on the floor and giggled. The dog was beaming, and my boy was beaming. I really believe in second chances, and prison dog programs are amazing. It was important that the boys who had worked so hard to train Jasmine, and were now saying goodbye to her, saw who they were helping.”

At first Jasmine had a bit of a relapse, possibly missing her young trainers, and resumed her incessant licking. “Denier is an exceptional individual and was committed to doing ‘whatever it took’ to help Jasmine acclimate to their home,” Thomas says. “Despite her hectic daily routine of caring for Desmon, she went out of her way to help ensure a smooth transition for Jasmine.”

Today Jasmine has conquered her fears and become a full-fledged member of the family.

“She started letting me know if my son would get up in the morning,” Vandergon says. “Since I can’t hear very well, she will bounce on the bed to get me up. She can’t wait to play with Desmon, but she knows what the limit is, since he is wobbly, and plays gently and is super sweet with him.”

What Vandergon didn’t anticipate is what a difference Jasmine has made in her life as well.

“When my son goes off to school, she comes to me and basically says, ‘OK, Mom, let’s go walk,’” Vandergon says. “We found some dog parks, and she has got me laughing again. She has been very good for me, and my anxiety has gone down tenfold. I didn’t realize how much of a companion she would be for me. I like to call her our therapeutic family dog.”


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