Journal of a puppy mill dogs rescue

In "Mill Dogs Take Manhattan," Kelli Ohrtman, specialist for the Puppies Aren't Products campaign from Best Friends Animal Society, chronicles the rescue of dogs from breeding facilities in the Midwest to wonderful animal organizations in the Northeast. From breeding stock and their surplus castoffs - to pets ready to go to loving homes, Kelli gives us a glimpse into this very special National Pup My Ride rescue endeavor. This mission is truly amazing: It is the milestone for the 1,000th puppy mill rescued dog to make it out of the pet trade and into a family that will love her forever!

Day one

6:45 a.m., Friday

It all starts in 10 minutes when I meet the team for breakfast in the hotel lobby. I was up at 6 a.m. this morning after getting to bed early last night. As we"re all getting ready to start this project, I"m thinking about where our dogs are right now. They"re sitting in their same old cages at whatever puppy mill they live in, just like any other day. What a bleak existence it must be to look at the same four walls for years, with the highlight of your day being when someone walks by to fill up your automatic feeder or hose off the tray under your cage. 4942846504 ce9ef96793 o

It must be both exciting and terrifying when one day the kennel owner stops in front of a dog's cage, opens it and reaches in to grab him. Puppy mill dogs always react with that mix of joy and fear. Or just fear, if they"ve been in the mill for a long time. Someone's finally taking me out! But for what?

I wish there was a way we could secretly confer with those dogs that it's okay, that this is the first day of the beginning of a life more wonderful than they ever could have imagined. I wish we could somehow tell them today when the breeder comes for you, it means you"re getting out, and you"ll soon be HOME.

11:00 a.m., Friday

Dozens of our wonderful volunteers are here and we"ve set up our entire staging area, our four days" home away from home. Words can"t express how grateful I am for these nice people who come out every time for Pup My Ride. They give their time and total dedication to these dogs for four days of long, hot, dirty hours of work. It"s like a reunion every time to see the same faces, all eager to know - "when will the dogs be here?"

10:00 p.m., Friday

Day one is over, and we now have eighty nine just-rescued puppy mill dogs in our care. It takes twenty five volunteers, three Best Friends staff, two vans, a trailer full of supplies and everyone pitching in to make this possible. Today we received three van loads of dogs (one van made two trips), and got everything from St. Bernards to Shih Tzus. People often ask what breeds of dogs are found in puppy mills, and I always answer the same way: if someone will buy it, you can find it in a puppy mill. 4942259581 1dd343d136 o

Today, we saw dogs with overgrown nails, missing eyes or legs, hernias, rotten mouths, and indecipherable breeding (is that really a Pomeranian? It weighs at least twenty pounds!) These are the castoff dogs that breeders no longer want. Whenever we get in a dog who looks too "normal," like a sweet, pretty yellow lab we took in today, I ask why the breeder gave up that one. And the answer is almost always: "not a good breeder." Well, I"m glad that our dogs were bad breeders. If that fact is their ticket away from life in a cage and into a home with beds and toys and health and love, then I think that being a bad breeder is the best luck they could have had.

Day two

7:15 p.m., Saturday

Well, today has been our chaotic day. There's always at least one, if not every day of Pup My Ride! The first excitement of the day was that our sweet yellow Lab was possibly bloating, which is an emergency. So she went directly to the vet for a checkup and x-rays and thankfully was okay. Just was extra excited to have food, which was sitting in her belly in a big lump. So now she has a special diet plan and is doing swimmingly. And we"re ever grateful for our diligent and observant volunteers, because if she had actually bloated and it went unnoticed, she could have died. 4942529783 bfb31fe00e o

Then our local rescue contact arrived, flustered, with a second van load of dogs. "I have too many. The van was so full I had to switch one pickup until tomorrow." Today, several breeders showed up with more dogs than expected, which happens on every single transport and puts our rescuer in an impossible situation.

Imagine it: you are scheduled to meet a breeder in some parking lot, and she"s said she"s bringing three poodles, a Chihuahua and a miniature pinscher. The breeder may have five hundred dogs, and that morning as she"s loading the agreed-upon dogs into kennels to give to rescue, she sees a Shih Tzu that she remembers hasn"t had a litter for a year and a half. That dog"s just eating food and costing money, so she"s gotta go. The Shih Tzu goes into a crate with the others. Then maybe there"s a puppy with a cherry eye that she knows a broker won"t take, so the puppy goes in the car too. And then there"s that old schnauzer that she"s been wondering what to do with-that dog hasn't produced a litter forever. So what was supposed to be five dogs turns into eight.

And so the rescuer, knowing that they"re on the breeder"s throwaway list, sighs and says "Alright I"ll take them and figure it out later." Every time, this happens. Because what animal loving dog rescuer can turn away dogs that are so close, on the brink of rescue, and then send them back? Not many. 4942846390 fa35745303 o

Our day is nearly over; all the dogs are eating dinner, getting a last cage-cleaning and water bowl check. We"re all sweaty and stinky and tired and we have 152 dogs in our care. Some are "surprise" dogs that were tossed into a breeder"s car at the last minute. Well, little surprises, we"re happy to have you. Welcome to our world!

This Pup My Ride was made possible by a grant from the Plum Foundation; transport provided by Sumter DART.

Click here to watch the video of Miley!

Day Three

Sunday

Announcing Miley!

We"ve reached an important milestone for Pup My Ride-our one thousandth rescued puppy mill dog! Best Friends" first national puppy mill dog transport was in May of 2009, saving dogs from the epicenter of the industry - breeding facilities in the Midwest - and transporting them to animal organizations ready to find them homes. Now we"re on our sixth transport, putting us at a total of one thousand ninety eight puppy mill dogs saved since Pup My Ride began last year.

To commemorate this special occasion, let me tell you about our one thousandth dog. We named her Miley. She"s a seven year old miniature Schnauzer from a huge puppy mill where the kennels seem to go on and on forever-there are well over a thousand dogs at Miley"s former "home." Our local rescue contact was out picking4942714563 f351096f57 o up dozens of dogs yesterday, and when she got to one facility the breeder walked her over to a pen full of Schnauzers. The breeder pointed out the one they didn"t want anymore. It can be hard to make out just one dog in a pen full, but when the rescuer was able to get a good look at the small gray dog with her pointy ears, nubby tail and intelligent face, the dog stood there and smiled back at her.

Miley and Kelli, right, share a tender moment. Click the image at right to watch the video!

That"s not an exaggeration, some dogs smile. It"s a pretty cute trait, though sometimes mistaken for growling or baring their teeth in aggression. My sixteen year old Chihuahua does it when she"s really, really happy. Well, Miley must have been extra happy that she was going to be freed from a puppy mill that day, because she smiled.

The place Miley came from could have been any old commercial dog kennel, where dogs that don"t get out through rescue end up in an unseemly and unceremonious fate. To hear the breeders tell it, they have to have some way to dispose of their "scraps." It doesn"t matter if they"re sweet and smart and smiley.

Well, Miley and nine hundred ninety nine dogs before her are the lucky ones. Thank goodness for Pup My Ride and all the many, many people who make it possible!

On the road!

We're loading up all the dogs into the special transport truck now (thank you Sumter DART!) This is the happiest4943231766 9f6ffb0d1b o and saddest part for the volunteers who have cared for these dogs for four days. Those four days are plenty long to fall in love with every dog under their care, so it"s with a mix of emotions that each one carries their favorite ones to the truck. I can"t wait for everyone on the east coast to meet little Miley and every other dog we"re bringing them. These little ones are so tough, quickly adapting from life in a mill to life with a bunch of animal-loving Best Frienders, and now they get to look forward to a warm welcome in Manhattan. Get ready, Big Apple, these mill dogs are set to take Manhattan!

This Pup My Ride was made possible by a grant from the Plum Foundation; transport provided by Sumter DART

Images by Gary Kalpakoff, Best Friends photographer and Kelli Ohrtman, Best Friends staff