Project Mercy: 23 English Bulldogs rescued from puppy mill

A few weeks ago, the call went out to various Midwestern rescues about a puppy mill in Iowa that was closing down. The puppy mill, known for poor inspections from the USDA, was to be auctioning off all the dogs on April 27 and 28. The Chicago English Bulldog Rescue (CEBR) quickly kicked in a fundraising campaign – Project Mercy – in an effort to stage a massive rescue.

By the end of that weekend, 23 English Bulldogs were headed to Chicago thanks to Project Mercy. Although larger rescues are not out of the norm for CEBR, this is the largest by far that they’ve ever accomplished. CEBR also worked in conjunction with two other rescues to save two German Shorthaired Pointers and a Miniature Pincher.

“We were alerted by other people in the rescue community about a puppy mill in Iowa that was going out of business,” says Molly Marino, founder of the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue. “We normally would not purchase dogs at an auction. However, since this mill was shutting down, we are truly saving these dogs from going to another breeder and continuing the cycle.”

English Bulldogs are a popular breed at pet stores and with the puppy mills that supply them. Because of that connection, CEBR does several rescues a year from mills. Most of the time those rescues number between eight and 12 dogs or much smaller.

“Puppy Mill rescues are special missions for us so we always raise money separately to fund them,” says Marino. “Not everyone believes in the rescues or wants to be a part of rescuing puppy mill dogs. So, we don’t use our general operating budget for activities like Project Mercy. Veterinary bills for these dogs may be astronomical so we need to do extra fundraising.”

The puppy mill, owned by Debra Pratt, had repeated violations under the animal welfare act. The last USDA inspection included not one, but three federal inspectors. She was reportedly given time to get the dogs removed from the property before facing seizure.

“We have been to auctions as purchases and witnesses and this was actually at the puppy mill,” says Marino. “This mill was disgusting – this was one of the worst we’d seen. The ammonia stench was so bad the experienced rescuers were vomiting and had to leave the kennel. Dogs were shaved that day so we couldn’t see how matted they were.”

This auction was also very disorganized according to Marino. Usually, dogs are number and there are vaccinations and health certificates on file. In this case, the auctioneer was angry because none of that had been done. A vet was called in that day for the shots.

“As bad as things were for all the dogs, it was terrible for the large dogs – the Great Danes and American Bulldogs,” says Marino. “They were out in the sun in kennels starting at 8 in the morning with no water. They were drinking urine because it was so hot and they needed something to drink.”

Rescues generally must keep a very low profile at auctions or risk not getting the dogs. Sometimes prices are driven up by rescues bidding against each other. There was tremendous cooperation in this case, which made all the difference and increased the number of dogs saved through Project Mercy.

“Right before the auction, the rescues were able to have a meeting and coordinate what we wanted to do,” she adds. “We closely kept track of what we could spend and focused on saving as many dogs as we could which turned out to be 23.”

In early bidding, the smaller dogs – like Chihuahuas – went to rescue for $10 each. There were a handful of commercial breeders that held out to later in the day to bid. When that did occur, rescues drove up the prices of those dogs a lot. The rescue was just the beginning for Project Mercy. Now the real work begins for CEBR and it’s supporters.

“Health-wise, we are looking at rotting teeth, ear infections and eye ulcers,” says Marino. “There’s a lot of poor care. One dog that I’m fostering was in a fight with another dog and had her lip bit off and scaring on her legs. We also find out a lot when it’s time to spay the dogs as well.”

That is because English Bulldogs give birth by C-section without the benefit of a veterinarian. Other problems also surface once the dogs make the trip to the vet – often for the first time ever. There are additional problems because of massive inbreeding.

Just yesterday, a report aired on the NBC Today Show that accused the American Kennel Club as not doing enough to protect animals receiving AKC registration. Many of the dogs pulled by Marino and her group from these deplorable conditions during Project Mercy had AKC papers.

Marino says the Project Mercy is a big success and fundraising continues to pay for veterinary costs. Since they’ve returned and posted pictures of the dogs on their fundraising site and Facebook page, donations have come in. Rescues like this do have critics.

“We came under fire from some other rescues because we pulled this dogs at auction,” says Marino. “Generally, you are just giving the mill operators more money to purchase and breed more dogs at auction. Since this mill was going out of business, we were doing what we could to finally give these dogs the life they deserve

CEBR continues in its mission to help English Bulldogs in need. They group took in several owner surrenders in the past week – a pair of dogs and one dog that had been left outside, tied to a pole. They continue to help out English Bulldogs that need rescue.

“We’re at 37 dogs right now,” say Marino. “That is the most we’ve ever had and it’s a bit overwhelming. However, we had a bunch of foster homes and volunteers step up. We also have a meet up set for May 11 to introduce the Project Mercy rescues to our supporters.”

Learn more about the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue online or donate to help Project Mercy online. Updates about the 23 dogs rescued are being posted on Facebook. Learn more about puppy mills through The Puppy Mill Project's website and Facebook page. You may also support the fight against puppy mills at the annual Mothers in the Mills Benefit on May 11th.

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    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats and Dogs.

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