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National Mill Dog Rescue on probation; one violation from losing license

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PEYTON, Colo. -- National Mill Dog Rescue, one of the largest animal rescues in Colorado, is on probation after an investigation by the state found it making critical violations that could bring infectious diseases across state lines.

The rescue, located on the Plains east of Colorado Springs, said it has saved 14,400 animals since its inception in 2007.

But whistleblower Jene Nelson questions how many animals have come into Colorado illegally.

"There is no better way of saying it, this is a huge case of interstate dog trafficking," Nelson said.

Nelson used to run the nonprofit's social media and marketing until the paper trail made her take pause.

Every animal brought into Colorado must have a certified veterinary inspection from a veterinarian certifying the animal is free from rabies and other diseases.

Nelson said National Mill Dog Rescue transported thousands of dogs into Colorado without that paperwork.

"They were smuggled, technically, because they didn’t have their CVIs," Nelson said.

Nelson said she also started to realize paperwork wasn't the only problem. She said Theresa Strader, the founder of the mill, vaccinated several animals, even though she is not a veterinarian.

"Every time it was intake, these dogs would go through an assembly line and Theresa would vaccinate them," Nelson said. "So then I started looking at the rabies vaccinations and they were signed by veterinarians or stamped by a veterinarian but the veterinarian wasn’t there.

"So I knew something wasn’t right."

Nelson said she tried to meet with Strader several times to address the problems, but Strader declined. Finally, Nelson said she filed a complaint with the state and it launched an investigation.

This wasn't the first time NMDR had been on the state's radar. Nick Fisher with Colorado's Pet Animal Care Facilities Act Program, said NMDR was first warned in 2017. However, he said problems persisted.

During the five-month investigation into Nelson's complaint, Fisher said investigators identified hundreds of dogs that did not have CVIs.

He called it an "egregious violation." He said failure to obtain CVIs for animals puts pets and people at risk.

"It’s a complex issues we are looking at," Fisher said. "Our concern is there is a lot of disease control issues that are coming in."

Fisher said CVIs are a critical piece in controlling disease as more animals are brought across state lines. In 2018, 45,000 animals were brought in Colorado compared to 15,000 in 2013.

"We are seeing some consumer protection with that where people adopt a sick animal or buy a sick animal then they are left holding the bag," Fisher said.

The state fined Strader $15,000. She has paid $7,000 so far and another $8,000 if she messes up during her yearlong probation.

The state also issued a cease-and-desist order to Strader to stop acting as a veterinarian without a license. If Strader has one more violation, she will lose her license.

National Mill Dog Rescue canceled a tour of the facility.

"We are proud of our history of near flawless USDA and PACFA inspection results, and of the exemplary care we have provided for over 14,400 dogs over the past 12 years," it said in a statement.

"In fact, as recently as September 27th of this year, National Mill Dog Rescue passed a no-notice Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA) inspection."

The Sept. 27 inspection report is labeled "non-compliant," citing the nonprofit for having one dog over the legal limit and failure to have medical paperwork for one of the dogs.

Fisher said the violations are minor so NMDR will not lose its license.

In the end, Nelson said all she's ever wanted is what's best for the animals and for the nonprofit to follow the rules.

"Ultimately, what do I want? I want every dog to have a happy home. Just do it right. That is the bottom like. That’s always been it," Nelson said.

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