In February 2007, veteran dog rescuer, Theresa Strader, received a one-sentence email that she happily
says changed the course of her life forever. The email read, “50 Italian Greyhounds in need” and along
with it was a phone number. Having a lifetime affinity for the breed, Theresa called the number to
inquire about the situation and how she might be able to help. She learned that a large scale
commercial breeder, a puppy mill, was going out of business and that all of the breeders’ dogs were
going up for auction - 561 dogs, 49 of which were Italian Greyhounds.
Right away, Theresa offered to help, saying she could care for three or four dogs from rescue through
adoption. There was one sizable obstacle though - the rescuers were from Ohio, the dog auction was in
Missouri and Theresa lives in Colorado. How would she get the dogs? There was only one way to make
it work and that was for her to travel to Missouri, attend the auction and transport the dogs home
herself. So, a couple of days later, off to Missouri she went.
Acknowledging she had never even heard of a dog auction, Theresa knew this experience was likely to
be life-changing. Walking inside a 500+ dog puppy mill for a lifelong dog lover and passionate animal
advocate was sure to make a disturbing and lasting impression. Not to mention, the moment Theresa
locked eyes with a terrified, disfigured little Italian Greyhound….
The following is an excerpt from a letter Theresa wrote about that day.
“February 17, 2007, I arrived at the auction site in Lamar, Missouri - all new to me, I was completely
unaware of what I was about to see and moreover, what I was about to learn. Little did I know that on
that very day, I would embark upon the most daunting yet rewarding experience of my life. I distinctly
remember every thought and feeling I had as I witnessed the cruel realities of the commercial dog
At about noon that day, I laid my eyes on Lily for the very first time. As she cowered in the back of her
cage, her jawless face staring back at me, I was overwhelmed by a flooding of emotions. I leaned close
in beside her cage and made her this promise. “I’m going to take you from this hell and love you til you
die.” I recall that moment as if it happened just today. In an effort to remain inconspicuous, I had to pull
myself together and find the nearest exit. After a long walk, I found myself leaning up against the
backside of an old barn where I slowly sunk to the ground in tears. I called my husband. I had so much to
say yet nothing came out, nothing but tears. At that moment, I knew I would never rest again without
taking a stand against the heartless cruelty put upon the animals that I have adored since I was a small
child. The animals that throughout my life have never let me down. Man’s best friend. In that moment,
on that day, National Mill Dog Rescue was born.”
Theresa vowed to keep her promise to Lily and she won the auction bid for $20. She came back home
with Lily and 12 others and her mission to make a lasting difference for commercial breeding dogs was
Theresa describes the ensuing months as “the education of a lifetime, even for the most seasoned
rescuer.” The physical and emotional damage that these dogs had endured was unlike anything she had
ever seen. After months and months of rehabilitation, all of these dogs still required very special
Lily was already home, adopted by the Strader family. Her physical state required immediate attention.
From years of neglect, Lily’s lower jaw had rotted away. She underwent unprecedented surgical
procedures in an attempt to correct this condition but unfortunately, none were successful. The
Strader’s decided to simply love her as she were and allow her to live her life as long as she could be
happy and comfortable.
In no time, Lily became the constant, courageous and loving companion of Richard, Theresa’s husband,
and the driving force behind the growing success of this new organization. Her story captured the
hearts of everyone she met and no one walked away from her the same person. People quickly learned
that Lily was a very important little dog whose life had such purpose.
Succumbing to the years of relentless breeding and neglect, Lily died in May of 2008 in the loving arms
of her family, just fifteen months after she was rescued. Theresa Strader was serious, Lily’s life would
not be in vain. Today, National Mill Dog Rescue is a dynamic, thriving organization dedicated to the
memory of this very special dog whose careless suffering will never be forgotten. To date, NMDR has
rescued almost 7,000 puppy mill survivors and has amassed over 1,400 volunteers who are the life-blood
of the organization. NMDR is considered the national expert in the rescue, care and placement of
former puppy mill dogs. The organization proudly upholds a no-kill policy, provides the highest level of
veterinary care anywhere, operates with a 95% volunteer staff and is successful in finding permanent,
loving homes for every single dog they rescue.
Yes, Lily’s tiny, disfigured little self is known all around the world as the dog whose life story would bring
love and freedom to thousands.