In the end, 47 of the 51 Vick dogs were saved. (Two died while in the shelters; one was destroyed because it was too violent; and another was euthanized for medical reasons.) Twenty-two dogs went to Best Friends, where McMillan and his staff chart their emotional state daily; almost all show steady improvement in categories such as calmness, sociability and happiness. McMillan believes 17 of the dogs will eventually be adopted, and applicants are being screened for the first of those. The other 25 have been spread around the country; the biggest group, 10, went to California with BAD RAP. Fourteen of the 25 have been placed in permanent homes, and the rest are in foster care.
Still, it's Jasmine, lying in her kennel, who embodies the question at the heart of the Vick dogs' story. Was it worth the time and effort to save these 47 dogs when millions languish in shelters? Charmers such as Zippy and Leo and Jonny Justice seem to provide the obvious answer, but even for these dogs any incidence of aggression, provoked or not, will play only one way in the headlines. It's a lifelong sentence to a very short leash. PETA's position is unchanged. "Some [of the dogs] will end up with something resembling a normal life," Shannon says, "but the chances are very slim, and it's not a good risk to take."
Then there are dogs like Lucas, who will never leave sanctuary because of his history as a fighter, and Jasmine and Sweet Pea, who will never leave their Recycled Love families. "There was a lot of discussion about whether to save all of the sanctuary cases," says Reynolds, "but in the end [Best Friends] decided that's what they are there for. There are no regrets."
BAD RAP works out of Oakland Animal Services, where above the main entrance is inscribed a Gandhi quote that dog people cite often: the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
"Vick showed the worst of us, our bloodlust, but this rescue showed the best," Reynolds says. "I don't think any of us thought it was possible to save these dogs -- the government, the rescuers, the regular people -- but we surprised ourselves."
Jasmine doesn't know about any of that as she sits on the back deck of Stirling's house. Stirling kneels next to her, gently stroking the dog's back. "I used to think any dog could be rehabbed if you gave it food, exercise and love," she says, "but I know now it's not totally true. Jasmine's happy, but she'll never be like other dogs."
It's quiet for a moment, and the breeze blows a shower of brown and red leaves off the trees. Then Jasmine turns, looks up, and licks Catalina's face. It is the sweetest of kisses.