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PEYTON, Colo. — Twelve German shepherds are recovering at National Mill Dog Rescue after living in “horrific conditions” in Weld County.

Theresa Strader and her team of volunteers at National Mill Dog Rescue picked up the dogs earlier this week.

Strader said the dogs’ owner was living in a school bus and the dogs were kept in wire cages outside with just boards placed over the tops of the cages as shelters.

“When I think of the storm we had a couple nights ago, holy cow, I don’t know if they would have survived that, just been buried under snow,” Strader said. “I am just here to tell you it was absolutely horrifying.”

A Weld County veterinarian convinced the dogs’ owner to turn them over to the rescue group.

“In this case, I think he thought maybe I could make some money off these dogs, but the truth is, you have to be able to take care of them and he didn’t even have the most limited resources to provide basic care for the dogs,” Strader said.

Strader said two of the dogs were a decent weight for their breed, but the rest of the German shepherds were anywhere from starving to emaciated.

“It just rips my heart out to see this beautiful, courageous, phenomenal breed trapped like that. It’s awful, heartbreaking,” Strader said.

National Mill Dog Rescue started 10 years ago. Since then, the rescue based out of Peyton has rescued more than 11,700 dogs from around the country. The rescue’s mission is to save dogs from puppy mills.

“We rescue the parents of pet store puppies,” Strader said.  “You’re very unlikely when you have a small puppy in your arms to be thinking about, ‘Gee, I wonder where it came from? I wonder how it’s mom and dad are living?’

“For every bit as cute as that baby is, is the hell the parents are living in. It’s a life devoid of people, vet care. Most of their life is spent in a wire cage producing puppies.”

Once puppy mills hand the dogs over to National Mill Dog Rescue, a team of volunteers gives them much-needed veterinarian care and nurses them back to health.

Volunteers work with the dogs to help them socialize. Eventually, the dogs are put up for adoption.

As for the 12 new arrivals, Strader said it will take more time for some of them to heal after so many years spent in deplorable conditions. Still, she’s confident they’ll all find homes.

“To me, they represent what we all love so much about dogs and it’s just their nature, their spirit. They are resilient, forgiving, loving, and every one of them has it in them. They are going to be great once we get them healthy,” Strader said.