For the past six years, the National Mill Dog Rescue has been rescuing dogs from puppy mills around the country. Thanks to the organization, nearly 8,000 dogs have gotten a new life. Now, the dog rescue is rescuing the rescuers by giving refuge to its founder and other volunteers displaced by the Black Forest fire near Colorado Springs.
Last week, the rescue’s founder and her husband Theresa and Rich Strader lost their home on the first day of the fires. Although their home wasn’t in a mandatory evacuation zone, a neighbor spotted trees on fire in their Black Forest neighborhood. Strader, her husband and daughter were able to flee with all their animals and the server that hosts the National Mill Dog Rescue’s Website.
Refuge for the rescuers
Since late last week, the fifth wheels, motor homes and RVs donated by supporters have moved into the parking lot at the National Mill Dog Rescue’s kennel headquarters. For now, that RV village is serving as a temporary home for the Straders and many of the people who’ve been key in rescuing so many dogs in such a short period of time.
“The volunteers at National Mill Dog Rescue are one big family,” said Rudi Taylor, a volunteer that coordinates the group’s social media efforts. “We share a common bond of loving these rescued dogs and committing ourselves to giving them the best lives possible and at times like this, that bond goes even deeper.”
Currently, the Strader family and around 10 evacuees that also volunteer for the NMDR are staying in those trailers. Inside the kennels, there are 40 dogs that were being fostered or had been adopted by various volunteers that have also been displaced by the fire.
"Some of these families are still waiting for news to know if their house is still standing and they need an incredible amount of support,” says Taylor. “I am so grateful that the NMDR community is able to provide not only a place to stay for these people and the animals they have dedicated their lives to caring for, but also the ongoing emotional support that they will need to move forward once things begin to stabilize.”
The families and dogs will stay there until they get the all clear to go home or may make other arrangements. In the meantime, the call is out for additional foster homes to help care for some of the dogs either temporarily or more long term.
“We are getting a good response from supporters and volunteers – donations of food for the evacuees and the dogs plus help at the kennels and people stepping up to foster dogs,” says Taylor. “I don’t believe the threat of the fire has passed and most evacuees haven’t been allowed to go back to their homes yet.”
Setting up a temporary home at the kennels is a natural for Strader and her family. NMDR is their home away from home in the first place ever since they moved the rescue’s headquarters from their own home to Peyton, Colorado. That home is where they lived with Lilly, an Italian Greyhound who was their first mill dog rescue.
Lilly died just 15 months after becoming part of their family but her legacy lives on. Her story inspired the Straders to start the organization, which has now rescued over 7,900 mill dogs. She is the only dog they buried back at their home in the Black Forest. Strader says Lilly was on their mind as they evacuated their home and saw that her husband had tears in his eyes.
“I said what’s the matter?” said Strader in a TV interview. “He said Lilly’s in the woods. I said she’s in the ground and will be there when we return.” In the meantime, Strader has gone back to what comes natural for her, caring for the dogs at the rescue. “It’s not heroic, it’s what we do. It’s comforting for me to be able to do that.”
For the love of the dogs
And, there is a lot of comfort that needs to be given. The many dogs that live at the kennels need care, socialization and love everyday after spending the first years of their lives in puppy mills. Caring for the dogs has done a lot to keep the volunteers going and keep their minds off what they left behind prior to the fire.
The spirit of the rescue has also expanded since the fire beyond the volunteers and mill dogs. This past week, the National Mill Dog Rescue has taken in dogs from their own community separated from their families due to the fire. They are working to reunite those dogs with their families.
While volunteers staying at the National Mill Dog Rescue await news of their fate of their homes, the Straders visited their homestead on Tuesday night. All that remains now is the foundation and charred walls. They are considering their options and hope to eventually rebuild, but for now fellow rescuers are helping the Straders get back on their feet with an online fundraising page.
“I wasn’t surprised at the donations. Theresa is so loved,” says Taylor who started the fundraising page. Since it was launched last week, the support has been overwhelming as people from all walks of live, inspired by the work that Strader has done, have donated to help.
In the meantime, the National Mill Dog Rescue is in need of more volunteers and fosters to help with the dogs at the kennel and continues to need food and supplies for the people and dogs. Donations to the organization to help care for the dogs is always needed. And, the rescuers at the rescue continue to have a refuge until it’s time for them to move on to their next home.
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