The guests of honor at this benefit gala were cuddled and petted and loved on.

How different from their lives two weeks earlier, when many emerged from filthy cages, trapped there, untouched by humans, for months and years as they served as canine breeding stock.

Now all clean, fluffy and a bit wary learning to act like free dogs, the rescues, part of 91 brought back from one rescue, faced a formally dressed and quite loving sold-out crowd at Cheyenne Mountain Resort for National Mill Dog Rescue's "Lily's Legacy."

Lily was the horribly abused Italian Greyhound that Theresa Strader fell in love with in 2007, leading to the now-well-known NMDR and the rescue of 12,280 dogs like Lily.

That number grew after the Oct. 14 gala, when Strader and her team headed out after even more endangered commercial-breeder castaways. Gala guests donated more than $55,000 to continue the rescue work.

Strader had never dreamed what 10 years would bring, she told supporters. Her huge team of volunteers fosters the dogs, readying them to be adopted. "We have to get them well to go to a home," she said. "But the dogs are so forgiving about what had been done to them."

As NMDR grew, Strader still had a dream, "a veterinary clinic, a real clinic for on-site care, and a rehab area for the most difficult cases, our red-collar dogs." It is coming true in December, thanks to Black Forest residents David and Mary Anne Wismer. The Timothy Center honors David's sidekick of 15 years, a tiny black and white shih tzu. David lost "a piece of himself" when Timothy died, Strader said. Another area of the center will be named for Mary Anne's special pet, Missy.

Helping celebrate the growth of the rescue center was personably prickly keynote speaker Jeff Young, "Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet" on Animal Planet, the channel's highest-rated show. The Denver-area veterinarian has made pet care affordable to thousands of low-income animal lovers through his Planned Pethood Plus. But, he said, "we don't do what we do to be on a TV show. We do it for the animals."

When this tough cancer survivor was first told about National Mill Dog Rescue and invited to visit, he admitted bluntly, "Why in the hell would I help people with animals coming out of puppy mills? Why would I condone what they are doing?"

The first time he saw dogs coming off Strader's van, though, that was all it took. Now he does volunteer vet work with NMDR, and some of its dogs are on his social media, adopted out of his clinic.

Much of this was because of Theresa Strader, whom he now describes as "a no-nonsense, gritty individual I'm glad to call friend." He says they both believe in questioning everything, which gets them into trouble.

Young's guests at the gala included Colorado Rockies pitcher Jon Gray and his wife, Jacklyn, both supporters of rescue adoptions. Gray had donated an auction basket of Rockies items to the rescue.

To see the pups available for adoption from NMDR:

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