National Mill Dog Rescue: Get Onboard

Volunteers lead the way where the rubber meets the road for puppy mill dogs

Volunteers lead the way where the rubber meets the road for puppy mill dogs

by Denise LeBeau, Best Friends staff

Before puppy mill issues debuted on Oprah there were quite a few organizations working steadily to help save the dogs trapped in the industry. One of the most preeminent and proactive is the volunteer-based National Mill Dog Rescue of Colorado. Their mission is education and rehabilitation when it comes to puppy mills, all their volunteers walk the walk and talk the talk every step of the way!

Theresa Strader, the founder and director of the organization, has been able to do what many others can’t and go where many others fear to tread. In just two short years, NMDR have saved approximately 2,000 dogs slated for an unceremonious death. These are the dogs that are no longer useful to their commercial kennel, and while they were once routinely disposed of; they are now given a second chance at life, thanks to Strader and her growing family of volunteers. She has been able to work out retirement arrangements with over 60 puppy mill facilities to ensure that as many dogs as possible see their way out of misery and into a loving a home.

Strader gives a kiss and offers a new life to rescued dog

The success of NMDR has been based on the 400+ volunteers that are the lifeblood of the organization. The recent collaboration of Best Friends and NMDR has seen hundreds of dogs get out of breeding and start anew in the Pup My Ride: Mills to Manhattan project. Strader is adamant that nothing of this magnitude could take place without the invaluable service of their volunteer team. While interviewing her army of rescue champs, it became apparent why they are so dedicated: Strader doesn’t ask anyone to do anything she isn’t already doing herself. Most of the volunteers are fostering and rehabilitating rescued dogs, and they talk about going on puppy mill transport rescues as if it were an all expense paid trip to Maui, they’re thrilled to be paying their own way and using their vacation days to help save a life.

In this type of pressured situation, when time is ticking and dogs need to be identified, vetted and loaded into transport vans that the hands on experience of NMDR volunteer Bryan Canaan is most valued! Canaan is a retired officer from a government agency who is now militant when it comes to saving animals. Strader shared that he’s an amazing volunteer and if there’s one thing left to be done, he’ll do it. He’s been with NMDR since the beginning and he’s always got his head buried in a crate to make sure it’s passing inspection. His main role in rescue transport is gathering up the dogs and driving the vans, and if there’s anyone you want behind the wheel it is Canaan every time!

Bryan Canaan lends a helping hand

Another lynchpin of the puppy mill transport operation is Darrell Rhodes (featured in lead image). Both he and his wife Shanna have been devoting their time to saving mill dogs for over a year with NMDR. Mr. Rhodes may have one of the toughest positions – going into the puppy mills themselves. He is the ‘go to’ guy when it’s time to gather and get the dogs out of the facility and while he is tough on the outside he’s all smarts on the inside. He must be as diplomatic as Strader when it comes to dealing with the millers and he’s got to keep his wits about him to ready the dogs to be whisked to safety.

"These dogs deserve a second chance and the volunteers at National Mill Dog Rescue would give their eyeteeth to make it happen," Paige Ashby shared. Ashby was another one of the volunteers that helped make the Mills to Manhattan possible. "It’s all because of Theresa Strader that we have been able to save as many dogs as we have. She’s such a special person and it’s her passion that inspires the rest of us. She’s made the mills feel comfortable enough to give us their dogs and that speaks volumes as to what Theresa is able to accomplish! All the volunteers are behind her 100 percent!"

Indeed, NMDR and a cadre of volunteers go out to the mills every four to six weeks to pick up the castoffs and transport them to a life of luxury. All the volunteers echoed Ashby’s sentiments about Strader and NMDR – it’s a wonderful group of likeminded people that do what needs to be done!

"So many of the dogs are shut down when we first get them out of the mill, but by the end of the day you can hear tails smacking the sides of their crates. They’re starting the transformation from shutdown puppy mill dog to beloved companion animal, that’s the beginning. The hardest part really is giving up the dog once he or she is ready to be adopted. That’s the hardest part…" Ashby said as her voice trailed away into a flurry of background woofs.

Paige Ashby and friend

The progression from a handful of rescued puppy mill dogs in converted chicken coops in Strader’s backyard to an 11,000 sq ft facility with radiant heat and 50 kennel runs is another testament to their vision. They are able to grow with the support of their community. Strader mentioned their veterinarian Dr. Michele Robinson, of Colorado Springs, as another one of the key people that have helped this organization get to where it is today.

"Dr. Robinson has so much heart for these dogs - she wants to take them all home. She treats us so fairly and she’s so very kind, we couldn’t do it without her!"

Another person they couldn’t do it without is Helen Freeman. Freeman is the assistant director at NMDR and she was thrilled to learn about the organization. She had been a volunteer in search and rescue for almost twenty years and her civic minded duty came out with guns blazing after she called the Department of Agriculture when she saw dogs being sold on the side of the road. This was her entry into the world of puppy mill rescue and since July of 2007 she’s been a dedicated fixture in the mission of NMDR. Her particular skill-set is record keeping and attention to detail. This means she’s the creator of the database that is imperative to keeping thousands of dogs and their medical, transport, adoption and foster records straight! She’s especially excited because NMDR recently got their transport license through the Missouri Dept of Ag and this means more dogs making their way out of mills than ever before!

Helen Freeman is ready for the job – no matter how small or large!

Freeman also stated that their community has pitched in to help the endeavor. From their home-check coordinator, to the committee of people that do everything from grant writing to cleaning the kennels, to the senior citizens that come in to help socialize the dogs by reading to them, it definitely takes a village to run a successful puppy mill rescue!

One villager ready for the task at hand is Kathy Nadeau! She and her family tramp for Yorkies and there’s not a Yorkshire terrier in need that would ever be turned away at the Nadeau abode. She has the same passion that all the volunteers have and she attributes the enthusiasm to Strader and Freeman! "Theresa and Helen have such a passion for the rescue of these animals. They make it a wonderful experience for everyone of the volunteers at NMDR. They also focus on the education side that is so important!"

Nadeau is another one of those dream volunteers that does it all: foster parent, kennel cleaner, and paperwork – she found out on a Monday that there was a puppy mill transport project on that Thursday and luckily her employer is very flexible. She helped make the Pup My Ride: Mills to Manhattan, happen!

Strader (left) and Nadeau (right) inspect a rescued traveler

NMDR volunteer, Dee Ruppert clearly remembers the day she ventured over to Strader’s house to donate some dog food. She started to say ‘facility’ but remembered that this was when the rescue was still run from Strader’s own backyard! Strader was busy cleaning bedding but stopped her chores to extol her gratitude at the inkind donation that was brought to her door. It was that impression of dedication and passion that got Ruppert feeling really good about what she had just done. Then she met Lily, the mascot that launched a thousand rescues, and Ruppert knew she was where she needed to be.

Ruppert and foster Lacy are ready for their close-up!

"National Mill Dog Rescue is so successful because we all have the same goal. Theresa will be the first person to say it – we can’t do it without each other. And everyone is doing it on a voluntary basis, we are doing it out of love! And you see it in the faces of the volunteers and you see it in the dogs. This is a dedicated group of people that understand the importance of a team effort. With all the horrors that go on at puppy mills it’s our love for the dogs and that ‘a-ha’ moment, when you can see the dog go from terrified and hopeless to feeling secure and cared for. This is what brings tears to our eyes and this is why we do it. It’s all for the dogs!" Ruppert explained she’s got her own ‘a-ha’ moment almost ready for adoption, a little momma dog named Lacy that’s ready to go home. There’s not a dry eye in the house!

Help Make That ‘A-Ha’ Moment Happen! Donate, Volunteer, Adopt or Foster!
To make a donation, click here
National Mill Dog Rescue is currently renting the facility that helps save thousands of lives. Please help them buy the property by making a donation today!

To volunteer at NMDR, click here

To adopt or foster one of these amazing dogs, click here

For more information, go to the National Mill Dog Rescue website.

images courtesy Dee Ruppert & Best Friends Animal Society: Clay Myers, Sarah Ause
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