Puppy mill rescues hit social media thanks to Harley & Teddy to the Rescue
By Kathy Mordini
When the National Mill Dog Rescue hit the road on a rescue mission this past May, their quest was being led by an unlikely duo: Harley and Teddy. The pair of puppy mill survivors had become social media sensations thanks to the Harley and Teddy to the Rescue campaign, and they gave supporters a dog’s eye view of a puppy mill rescue
The idea for the campaign developed last fall. The National Mill Dog Rescue, a Colorado-based group that has saved nearly 8,000 puppy mill dogs, was headed out to a rescue in Kansas. A breeder had called and told them to come and pick up her dogs because she didn’t need them any longer. Before the rescue team could get there, she called and said not to worry, her son had taken care of the problem—he had killed the dogs.
“When you are doing a rescue like that you have the list of dogs,” says Rudi Taylor. “Even though you’ve never met them, you feel as if you know these dogs. It really hit me. I started to think of what we could do to get the word out and raise awareness.”
Taylor is one of the administrators of NMDR’s great social media outreach: their Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages, and blog posts. Although there are passionate stories on those outlets, the messaging is pretty straightforward.
When she decided she wanted to tell this type of story, Taylor realized that someone else would have more impact—her dog, Harley, a one-eyed, broken tailed Chihuahua rescued by NMDR, and a social media sensation in his own right. Harley had lost an eye when he was power washed instead of groomed in the puppy mill and was in rough shape when rescued.
“Harley had his own Facebook page and a strong following,” says Taylor. “You can only rescue as many dogs as you can afford to rescue and I thought he could start a fundraising campaign to help fund a mill dog rescue. I think some people want to know exactly where the funds go and here it’s going to rescue the dogs.
“Harley’s fans are really passionate and I thought we could raise $2,500. What surprised me was how fast we were able to do it: four days. At that point, I added Teddy to the campaign so that we could raise more funds and cover the rescues and vet bills after rescue for these dogs.”
Teddy is another NMDR dog who has his own Facebook page and his mom—Michele Burchfield—also handles the social and regular media for the organization. The initial $2,500 covered transportation, hotel, and a few other expenses for the two vans and crew on their 2,000 mile rescue mission. An additional $200 per dog (minimum) was needed for spay/neuter costs, dental care, and vaccinations when the dogs returned.
When they reached their goal they decided to make sure that this campaign was much more than a fundraiser. They hoped to use Harley and Teddy to tell the story of a puppy mill rescue trip, the dogs that where saved, and other stories that happen along the way.
“I wanted to be able to put more information out there as we went from puppy mill to puppy mill rescuing the dogs,” says Taylor. “I wanted to give updates of the dogs on the road and track what was happening. The whole thing with Harley to the Rescue became a virtual reality show for a lot of people and it caused a lot of awareness.”
Taylor adds that there were school kids that were tracking this trip and talking about what is going on in puppy mills. Stories were posted and cross-posted as supporters followed the rescue.
Thanks to Harley and Teddy to the Rescue, 64 dogs escaped the horror of a puppy mill and went into the care of the NMDR. The first dogs on this trip were pulled from auctions and the rest were dogs relinquished by mill operators. This included some dogs not originally on the list for rescue.
“There was one little Chihuahua that was curled up in the corner of her cage at the first auction, just petrified,” adds Taylor. “We couldn’t stand to see her stay in the system and actually pulled money out of our own pocket to save her. She was a real mess and was maybe a year and half and already had at least one litter. Her growth plates didn’t develop properly and she could be prone to break her legs. Her teeth are bad; she [was] skinny and had a bad ear infection. She was back and forth at the vet the first few days. But the good news is, it looks like our vet will be adopting her.”
The story is now just beginning for Harley and Teddy to the Rescue. Taylor has launched the next Harley and Teddy to the Rescue fundraising campaign. And, Harley and Teddy will be hitting the road again soon to give their own play-by-play on some of the puppy mill rescues. There will be a few rescues where the dogs will opt to stay on the home front as well.
The campaign did stall temporarily earlier this month when the Black Forest Fire swept through the area around the National Mill Dog Rescue. Teddy and his family were evacuated and camped at the NMDR headquarters until they got the all clear to go home last week, fortunately to find their home still standing.
The news wasn’t so good for organization founder Theresa Strader. Her family lost their home the first day of the fire. Harley, Teddy and company started fundraising to help the Strader family get on their feet. Harley and Teddy are now back to focusing on their campaign to rescue more mill dogs in the coming months.
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 blog on the ChicagoNow and her pet care columns on Doggy Woof.