By Kathy Mordini
It all started with a stray dog walking down a country road. It ended with 93 dogs being rescued from a puppy mill/hoarding situation. In between, there was patience, compassion and national collaboration involving numerous rescues, transports, and a puppy mill advocacy group.
When it comes to animal rescue, it often takes much more than a village. This week’s rescue from a Southern Illinois puppy mill shows what happens when groups work together for the sake of the animals.
Elanna Bradley is an animal control officer in Chester, Illinois; she’s also a licensed foster for Gunner’s Run Rescue. A friend of hers called to report a stray dog running loose on a country road. He would not let anyone get close enough to catch him, but kept running back out on the road. Since it was out of her area, Bradley went out as a rescue volunteer to investigate.
“I saw the dog wandering on the road and he eventually ran up to [a] house,” says Bradley. “I drove up and saw the puppies for sale sign. When I knocked on the door, a man came out to talk to me and all these stinky, dirty, matted dogs came running outside. I knew it was going to be bad.”
He ended up telling her that he had 40 dogs on the property. “I knew from being in animal control that you usually double that number and add a few to get to the real number,” says Bradley. “I told him that I work in animal control and volunteer with rescue. I offered to work with him to help him get his numbers down.”
He took her information, but never called. Bradley continued to try to initiate more contact. She dropped dog food off at his home, but he wouldn’t come to the door. When Good Friday rolled around, he finally came to the door and said that the Department of Agriculture had come by and told him he had to get the number of dogs on his property down.
That is when she found out there were at least 97 dogs on the property and that he’d been working alone. Bradley asked how she could help. He asked her to take his dogs to help him get down to a more manageable number.
“I knew from my years in animal control that if you don’t step up to the plate immediately, you often lose that window of opportunity,” says Bradley. “I had three small cat carriers and loaded up six dogs. I had done up to 10 before, but never 93. I knew I needed help.”
Luckily for Bradley, she knows Hillary Singer, a volunteer with The Puppy Mill Project (TPMP). She connected with Singer who reached out to TPMP Vice President Janie Jenkins in Chicago for help facilitating the rescue.
TPMP is an advocacy organization that focuses on educating people about the connection between puppy mills and pets sold in pet stores, online, and in newspaper ads. They aren’t a rescue organization. However, many members of the group are heavily involved with rescue efforts in their communities.
“Once I heard the number of dogs involved, I knew contacting Theresa Strader of the National Mill Dog Rescue in Colorado was my next move,” says Jenkins. NMDR focuses solely on mill dog rescues, saving nearly 7,600 since it was founded in 2007. “Theresa facilitated the rescue and transport of 70 of the 93 dogs to North Shore Animal League in New York. They are a no kill shelter and incredible organization that has the resources to care for all of these babies.”
At that point, NSAL picked a transport date. With 70 dogs placed, TPMP needed to find rescue for the other 23 dogs. Jenkins reached out to her contacts in Michigan at the Little Traverse Bay Humane Society in Harbor Springs, Michigan. They agreed to take in 12 of the dogs if transport could be arranged.
That is when Rescue ME Clifford, a rescue organization that works out of downstate Clark County and adopts out in Chicago, became involved. RMC routinely transports dogs to adopters and other rescues, and has worked with Little Traverse Bay in the past. RMC director Marilyn Frey found volunteers to drive the 12 dogs in a transport and the group donated money to help pay the transport costs. That rescue was completed last week.
Other groups that stepped up included Labs of Love in Indianapolis that took in three dogs; Guardian Angel Bassett Rescue that took in the two Bassetts; Dirk’s Fund that took in two Golden Retrievers; Be Fido’s Friend took in a Schnauzer and Lhasa Mix.
“It was set and a transporter named Shannon McGuiness out of Missouri was going to transport the 70 dogs from Illinois to Ohio where NSAL would pick them up,” says Jenkins. “The night before the rescue we all met in Chester. The dogs had been vetted, rabies shots issued, and ready to go.”
Bradley had already removed 41 dogs from the property with the help of one other volunteer. Her friends Rob and Pam Schuchert of Schuchert Lock Shop had donated their vehicle to help transport the dogs off the property. The volunteers met at 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning, April 15, and loaded up the 41 that had been previously removed. They then headed to an undisclosed location to wait for the removal of the other 40 dogs. The rescue operation took about seven hours.
Once the dogs were loaded, McGuiness and Michel Burkhart started their eight-hour trek to Ohio to meet the NSAL transport. As of Wednesday, all of the dogs were safe and sound with their new rescues getting ready to start their new lives. Bradley still has a 10-year-old Rottweiler/Shepherd mix that needs rescue. She is a very sweet dog too.
“I’ve done small puppy mill rescues before and in all of the cases, the dogs were not social and had a lot of problems,” says Bradley. “This is a case of a guy that started to breed and didn’t want to get rid of the dogs and became a hoarder. Although they were filthy and matted, they were social and had been fed, and only a few tested positive for Heartworm because he’d been giving most of them preventative.”
He had named the dogs and knew their personality quirks. He even slept with some of them. When the hoarding got out of control, he could no longer properly care for them. They became a matted mess. One dog was so bad, his feces had grown into the matted fur to the point he was blocked from bowel movements. They immediately cut the matte out in the field to give him relief.
Bradley points out that usually neighbors or someone else knows this is happening but they don’t speak up. “People have this negative view of animal control and think if they turn an animal in, we’ll put them down. Get to know your local animal control because many of us work to get dogs rescued. I’ve networked all adoptable pets to rescue. If people speak up, we can help and step in before it gets this bad.”
Her contact still has about six dogs on the property. Two of the dogs are elderly and will be euthanized soon because they are not expected to survive much longer. The others are to be spayed and neutered. Bradley will continue her relationship with the dogs’ caregiver to keep an eye on the situation.
If you’d like to learn more about puppy mills and their connection to pets sold in pet stores and on the internet, go to The Puppy Mill Project’s website.
The organization is holding their Third Annual Mothers in the Mill Fundraiser on May 11 at John Barleycorn in River North in honor of all the mother dogs left behind in the mills.
Kathy Mordini is an animal lover who has counted rescue pets as a member of her family since she was a child. As a writer, she is passionate about advocating for homeless pets and the rescues that give these pets a second chance. She also volunteers for The Puppy Mill Project. Read her pet rescue columns on the Examiner and her pet care columns on Doggy Woof.