Nationally renowned dog rescue accused of picking up puppies from pet store

Problem Solvers
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PEYTON, Colo. — Critics said National Mill Dog Rescue has picked up puppies from a Kansas pet store and mislead the public on the conditions inside some of the breeding facilities it works with.

National Mill Dog Rescue is a nationally renowned nonprofit based in Peyton, on the eastern plains east of Colorado Springs. Since its inception in 2007, the rescue said it has re-homed more than 14,000 dogs, with adoption fees ranging from $200 to $350.

In 2018, the rescue brought in $2,345,117 in total revenue, down from 2017 where it generated $2,999,439 in total revenue.

In October, a FOX31 Problem Solvers investigation reported on a state investigation into National Mill Dog Rescue and its founder Theresa Strader. Investigators cited the nonprofit for making critical violations that could bring infectious diseases across state lines. The state said the rescue had failed to collect proper paperwork for dogs it transported into the state, despite being warned previously to change its ways. The state also found Strader vaccinated several animals, even though she is not a veterinarian. National Mill Dog Rescue is currently on probation, and could lose its license if it has another violation during its year-long probation.

Jene Nelson used to run the nonprofit's social media and marketing and has now blown the whistle on issues inside of the facility.

"This was an organization that meant a lot to me. I worked with my heart even before I was an employee and I am sorry in some degree that I even know," said Nelson.

According to its website, National Mill Dog Rescue's mission is "to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home discarded breeding dogs." Nelson said she questions why a rescue focused on "retired breeding dogs" would help a pet store by picking up its unwanted puppies.

Nelson said she first realized what was happening when they made a stop during a rescue mission.

"Theresa told me to stay in the van. She said, "Don’t get out." I looked on GPS to see where we were and we were at a pet store. And again, the big mantra is 'adopt, don’t shop.' And we were actually at a pet store," said Nelson.

The owner of Dorothy's Pet Shop in Junction City, Kansas, told the Problem Solvers she has given Strader unwanted puppies. Dorothy Stewart's breeding facility has been a repeat offender on the Humane Society's Horrible 100 List, a list of the worst breeders in the U.S. according to USDA inspection reports. The Problem Solvers asked Stewart about the violations. Stewart said she has made improvements to the facility, however her facility was still listed on the Humane Society's 2019 report.

The Problem Solvers found two instances of dogs listed on Dorothy's Pet Shop's Facebook page re-appearing months later at National Mill Dog Rescue. Stewart told FOX31 she cannot recall how many unwanted dogs she has passed along to Strader.

 In a video shared with FOX31, Strader asks a dog "how did you not sell?"

Strader would not answer the Problem Solvers questions up receiving dogs from a pet store.

In addition to pitstops at a pet store, Nelson questions the backgrounds of dogs "rescued" by the nonprofit.

Nelson said the breeding dogs that used to come in were in rough shape. However, she said the breeding industry has shifted over the years and conditions have improved for many of the dogs and puppies the nonprofit re-homes now.

"Are there are breeders that are bad breeders? Yes! I just am not sure those are the ones she is dealing with anymore," said Nelson.

In 2017, FOX31 aired a story with National Mill Dog Rescue on a group of german shepherds it had recently acquired. During an interview, Strader said the conditions the dogs were living in were among the worst she had ever seen.

"You see a lot of different horrible things that most people wouldn’t want to see but this was amongst the worst," said Strader.

She said the animals had been living in a field with no protection and utter filth. The dogs' owner, Scott Worthing, said Strader's description was a far cry from reality. He said he was shocked by the misinformation being spread to the public.

"Someone told me, 'You better look at this [story].' And she trashed us like you wouldn’t believe," said Worthing.

Worthing spent years breeding german shepherds, with some even making their way into first responder units in Colorado and Florida. Worthing said his animals were well-cared for and well-loved, living in a heated kennel or his home.

Worthing's health started to deteriorate because of his decades' long battle with crohn's disease. As the medical bills started billing up, he said he moved into a bus. However, he said the dogs were never impacted, they continued to live inside of the indoor heated kennel with lots of opportunities to play outside on the farm as well as veterinary care.

When Worthing's doctors asked him to move down to Denver, he said he worked with his veterinarian to find new homes for the dogs. He said that search led to Strader with National Mill Dog Rescue.

"I was just glad I had someone to take care of my dogs," said Worthing.

Ahead of the meet up, Worthing said he took the dogs to play in a pond and get their energy out ahead of the long drive in the rescue van. Worthing said he couldn't believe Strader would later tell the public that the dogs were living in the field near the pond.

"These were outside in the elements, barely able to stand up in the crates they were in and just utter utter filth," said Strader in 2017 in an interview with FOX31.

Worthing said he was furious and helpless.

"I had to let it go because it was eating me up," said Worthing.

He said the only thing that gives him peace of mind is knowing his dogs are happy.

"I think the dogs got good homes. I would hope they did," said Worthing.

Strader told FOX31 she would not do an interview about Scott Worthing's breeding facility or answer any questions about the conditions inside breeding facilities she works with.

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