Milled and Misunderstood

This article, written about National Mill Dog Rescue, was originally posted in Yellow Scene Magazine (  It was published on September 21, 2011 and written by Stephanie Riesco.

Milled and Misunderstood

Psychologically damaged dogs rehabbed and rehomed

Otis did not trust people. He growled instead of excitedly greeting caretakers and charged if anyone walked past his room.
Jill Haffley, behavior specialist with the Colorado-based National Mill Dog Rescue, has seen every by-product of modern puppy mills—from terrified shaking to aggression. She said Otis, a rescued miniature poodle, was an extreme case.
“In cases like Otis you wanted to walk into his kennel backward,” Haffley said. “Whereas people would shake hands face to face, with dogs they go rear to nose. You want to respect Otis in his space, so you go in backward.”
Puppy mills can be as small as a garage or fill homes, sheds and unsheltered yard space with dangerous, unsanitary cages where breeding dogs spend their entire, often unduly short lives. Experts say the majority of dogs sold in pet stores come from puppy mills, and the Humane Society estimates these stores sell roughly 500,000 puppies each year. From abuse-related deformities to unusual expressions of fear, each rescued mill dog bears scars of the poorly regulated commercial dog industry, Haffley said.
Haffley, who adopted her own rescue dog, said she believes every mill dog can learn to accept human love, even Otis.
“Somewhere within Otis a light just clicked on for him and he realized we weren’t there to hurt him,” Haffley said. “We get all ages, all breeds, all types. Not one of them is unable to be rehabilitated if given the amount of time that they need.”
Kim and Heather – working on leash-walking
and socialization with Retta and Shadow 

Kim Lehmann, a volunteer coordinator who has worked at NMDR since its 2007 opening, has seen more than 5,000 dogs rescued primarily from puppy mills in the Midwest, specifically Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

“We rescue those dogs that are discarded by the breeders and slated to be killed because they can no longer produce puppies for the mill,” Lehmann said. “They are either too sick or too old or they are dogs that are not what the public is buying in the pet stores.”
NMDR’s almost entirely volunteer-staffed facility in Colorado Springs relies on donations, adoption fees and grants to fund rescue, veterinary care, cleaning and rehabilitation.
“They often arrive filthy, matted, infested with fleas and tics and parasites and all kinds of infections, broken bones, broken jaws,” Lehmann said. “Some dogs won’t walk through doorways, some dogs won’t eat in front of us—of course nobody walks on a leash right off the bat and nobody is house-broken.”
In her 2010 documentary, I Breathe, Colorado filmmaker and producer Jene Nelson worked with NMDR and breeders to study the commercial dog-breeding industry.
When filming, Nelson said she was barred from entering most facilities with cameras, but a reputable dog auction unsettled her as she watched dogs sold on the auction block to the highest bidder.

Here is a clip from the I Breathe documentary about dog auctions:

“I can’t say that it was an evil, terrible experience, it was surreal because you have all these purebred dogs that are being put on an auction block,” Nelson said. “Copper, this dog profiled in my documentary, sold for one penny.”
The United States Department of Agriculture and most states’ regulations monitor breeding, but Nelson said there are not enough inspectors to do an effective job. State legislators in Missouri and Colorado overturned laws that would crack down on puppy mills. Animal rights organizations speculate lobbying from the multi-billion dollar breeding industry prevents the passage of regulatory laws.
“One of the dogs featured in my documentary was just in horrific condition and she came from a USDA-licensed facility,” Nelson said. “When I pulled the last inspection report from that facility, there were some minor violations, but there was not a mention of any of the conditions of any of the dogs.”

Nelson promoted education to fight the commercial industry. Trust only hobby breeders who test for genetic disorders or those who allow thorough site visitation, she said, but simply going to a rescue facility garners viable pets as well.

“For people who think that shelters or rescues just have mangy mutts, I have a cavalier King Charles spaniel who’s absolutely adorable, she’s out of a puppy mill, and she’s a rescue dog,” Nelson said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to take a dog with nothing and give it a life.”
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6 Responses to “Milled and Misunderstood”

  1. Anonymous

    Amen. We have two rescue Dachshunds from NMDR and they are a delight. Of course they have issues, but they are so full of love, and every issue can be dealt with.

  2. Anonymous

    Bless everyone involved in getting these poor dogs out of the hell they’re in. I hope some day the Federal Gov bans puppy mills.

    I too have 2 dach’s. The oldest was a mill dog, the lil guy is from a pet shop that was shut down, via a groomer who had gotten wind of it. The difference in their personalities are like night and day.

  3. Anonymous

    7/2006 I adopted a dog that should of been only 2 years of age. He was reported “Healthy” with a great bill of health, I found him on Pet Finder, I was disabled, and still am. I had lost my Maltese after having him 15 great years, and wanted another, I saw this dog, and said I really want him, I needed a dog to get me out and walk daily. They said this is the dog for you. They also said if there were something wrong with this dog would you get him taken care of. Well of course I said, that goes without being said. My dog and I fell in love with each other, we would walk and walk all over the neighborhood up and down the hills. But in between walking there were weekly trips to the vet, because of his ears, feet, his teeth, allergy shots, you name it. I wrote to the head of the adoption center won’t name names, they said to me after me yelling and crying, “Didn’t you know he was a “special needs dog” OMG I knew I could hardly take care of myself let alone take care of this dog. I would cry when my dog had to go to the vet again, my husband god bless him, would say take him to the vet. As well all know the vet is expensive, we have spent around $10,000. on my baby and he is now ready to loose his life, a tumor, is blind, can’t hardly walk, I cannot make the decision to put him down and send him to doggy heaven. I have also had to pay for a sitter for him when I need a break, because being disabled, and having another back surgery in 2008, double fusion, I had to heel because I wanted to keep taking care of my dog. I have to cook special diet because of his allergy testing it told me that he could only eat special food. If you are going to adopt make sure you don’t fall in love with your dog before you find out all their illness. I am just sitting here shaking my head because of what they did to me, the shelter they brought my rescue to my house and wanted a donation. Well of course you are going to give a donation. One other thing, after a couple of months of walking I finally had to carry him, I finally figured it out that he was low on thyroid, and is on thyroid medication 2x a day, along with antibiotics, he has MRSA, who would of thought a dog would be carrying MRSA after spending thousands of dollars I told the doctor get a swab in one of his sores and really get a good culture, if you have to do it yourself, and it did come back MRSA.This was after going to a specialist to find out why he had an infection that we couldn’t get rid of I had to give him
    medication where I had to wear gloves, if I were to come in contact with this medication it could kill me. Still disabled. God help me and my dog. Please if you are disabled get a healthy dog, if at all possible. Mrs C. Sands

  4. Animal Rescue

    Pretty section of content. I just stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to say that I get in fact enjoyed account your weblog posts. Anyway I’ll be subscribing to your feeds or even I fulfillment you get entry to consistently quickly.

  5. Jene

    The message needs to be repeated over and over again and NMDR needs to get as much media attention as possible. Wouldn’t NMDR make a great reality show??

  6. Anonymous

    NMDR does superb work. They rescue dogs who would otherwise be put down. Even the hardest dogs are capable of love and giving. Please volunteer, donate or just spread the organization’s name.


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