Theresa Strader is a woman on a mission. If she has her way, pet-friendly Colorado Springs will soon be the front line in the battle against puppy mills.
In February 2007, she saw her first puppy mill - a place where hundreds of scared, neglected and diseased animals had been confined to cages for years as they pumped out litter after litter of puppies. Since then she's made it her ambition to change the way the dog breeding industry works.
"I had no idea what I was going to see and learn," she said. "That changed my life."
Strader founded the Mill Dog Rescue Network in her home in Black Forest, and in less than two years, she and her army of dozens of volunteers have saved 1,176 dogs.
So many dogs are waiting to be rescued that the nonprofit group had to move to bigger digs. On Saturday, the group will hold an open house at its new 11,000-square-foot kennel facility near Peyton, so the public and other rescue organizations can see what they're up to. About 40dogs are at the kennels now, with nearly as many in foster homes.
Strader said she's only at the beginning of her journey with mill dogs. While she wants to save as many as possible, her real goal is educating the public about good breeding practices. What good does it do to keep adopting out dogs when hundreds of thousands of new puppies are flooding the market each year?
"We have to go to the source," she said.
To that end, the group is changing its name to National Mill Dog Rescue, with the motto "breeding responsibility" and an ambitious 10-year plan. Puppy mills have drawn increasing media attention, but there's been a lack of action thus far, Strader said, and she's willing to jump into the middle of the fray.
"People want puppies and that's not going to change," Strader said. "But people also want to know when they spend their money they're supporting something good."
Strader has set her sights on creating a national breeder certification program - the equivalent to the organic seal for food - that will allow good breeders to distinguish themselves as more compassionate. American Kennel Club papers and U.S. Department of Agriculture licensing don't prove that the dogs are treated humanely, Strader said.
"Compassion certification" will be coupled with an education program with the aim of persuading consumers to look for the seal of approval before they buy. Her plan will require years of work to set out criteria for certification, recruit an army of volunteer inspectors, and create educational products. And although rescue groups and breeders are often at odds, Strader hopes that by working together they can improve the lives of dogs and put cruel breeders out of business.
"We're working to change this industry, not to make it go away," she said. "There are good breeders who take care of their animals, and there's godawful breeding that is complete and total animal cruelty."
The open house for the National Mill Dog Rescue's new facility is from noon-4:30 p.m. Saturday at 5335 JD Johnson Road, one mile south of Falcon Highway in Peyton. Kids and pets can have their picture taken with Santa, and there will be a silent auction, and food and drinks. For more information: www.milldogrescue.org or 1-888-495-DOGS.
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