Wednesday, September 18, 2019

National Mill Dog Rescue hit with state fine

Posted By on Wed, Sep 18, 2019 at 3:17 PM

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National Mill Dog Rescue, a local nonprofit that puts "rescue dogs" from puppy mills up for adoption, has been hit with a fine from state regulators.

HuffPost first reported on the Aug. 8 order, which concludes an investigation by the state Department of Agriculture under the Pet Animal Care Facilities Act. The order placed Mill Dog Rescue's PACFA license on probationary status for one year, during which time state regulators can conduct unannounced inspections.

It also slapped the nonprofit with a $15,000 fine, of which $7,000 was required immediately. The other $8,000 is due to the state should Mill Dog Rescue fail any inspections during the probationary period. If not, it doesn't have to pay that portion of the fine.

The actions resulted from the commissioner of agriculture's findings that Mill Dog Rescue transferred several dogs from outside the state without obtaining required certificates of veterinary inspection. The nonprofit also failed to produce medical records for dogs that received treatment under its care, and failed to ensure one female dog was housed separately from male dogs — resulting in her pregnancy.

In response to the state order, National Mill Dog Rescue's Chief Operating Officer Chuck Arnold provided the following statement from the nonprofit:

"National Mill Dog Rescue has never, and will never waiver from our mission of rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming discarded breeding dogs. In addition, National Mill Dog Rescue is proud of our history of nearly flawless USDA and PACFA inspection results and the exemplary care we have provided for over 14,000 dogs over the past 12 years. National Mil Dog Rescue also remains committed to working closely with all Federal and state regulating authorities to ensure we continue to be in compliance with all laws, statutes and regulations. Finally, as always, for anyone who wishes to visit our facility, meet our dogs, and see our work firsthand, our doors are open every day of the year from 12-4pm." 

The Indy recently obtained a copy of the complaint that triggered the PACFA investigation, which the Department of Agriculture had previously withheld while the probe was ongoing. It was filed in January by former marketing director Jene Nelson.

In the complaint (scroll down to read the full document), Nelson describes an instance when she accompanied the nonprofit's founder, Theresa Strader, on a "rescue trip" in July 2017 to pick up dogs from breeders. The dogs were transported into Colorado without the required health and rabies certificates, Nelson writes:

"During one of the stops to pick up dogs, a breeder asked Theresa where she was going to get rabies and health [certificates] for the dogs because she was 'getting heat over it from other breeders.' Theresa told her the dogs were being taken to Dr. Welborn and the breeder asked her to write down his name. What raised suspicion was that we were going in the opposite direction from where [Welborn's] Butler Animal Clinic was located, which is in Butler, Missouri. In fact, there was no stop for any rabies or health certificates. After that incident, I became aware that dogs were being transported without them on a frequent basis and have been for years. I have documentation dating back to 2008."

Next, Nelson describes a process in which Strader would vaccinate dogs and then falsify rabies certificates.

"The volunteer or staff member who is filling out the rabies certificate does not put Theresa’s initials on the intake sheet as the one who administered the vaccine," Nelson explains. "This is per Theresa’s directive. ... After the rabies vaccine is given, the volunteer is using the veterinarian’s stamp. I have found that Dr. Traci Duncanson’s stamp is used, but the rabies certificates are taken in a stack to Dr. Debbie St. Louis for an actual signature."

"There have been at least two tragic incidents involving senior dogs who were not seen by veterinarians prior to being vaccinated with 5-way and rabies by Theresa Strader," Nelson continues.

Nelson goes on to describe sick animals being transported into Colorado, dogs being transferred to other facilities without proper certification, underage puppies transported into Colorado and transferred to another shelter, and dogs not receiving medical care in a timely fashion. Nelson also says she attempted (unsuccessfully) to bring up the issues internally with Strader and two of Mill Dog Rescue's board members before going to the state.

Nelson lists several transfers of dogs to other shelters, including 29 to the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region in the fall of 2018.

"A large percentage [of dogs] are transferred to other facilities with falsified rabies certificates and were brought to Colorado without required paperwork," Nelson writes.

In July, a spokesperson for the Humane Society told the Indy that the shelter received 42 dogs total from Mill Dog Rescue last year, and five so far this year. We asked the Humane Society whether it still receives dogs from National Mill Dog Rescue, and whether dogs received in the past have had the required paperwork.

Update Sept. 20:

Gretchen Pressley, a spokesperson for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, confirmed the shelter took in "13 dogs, not 14 (as Nelson wrote)" from Mill Dog Rescue on Oct. 17, 2018, and 15 dogs on Nov. 28, 2018, for a total of 28 dogs on those two days.

"PACFA does not require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection if transferring within Colorado, so we did not receive that for any of the transferred dogs," Pressley wrote in an email.

Another complaint, filed by Nelson with the Department of Regulatory Agencies, alleged Strader was illegally practicing veterinary medicine without a license. HuffPost reports that the case was referred to the state attorney general's office, which would decide whether to prosecute Strader.

Such a violation of state law constitutes a misdemeanor on the first offense, and a felony on subsequent offenses.

The State Board of Veterinary Medicine issued a public cease-and-desist letter to Strader on June 28 stating that the board has “credible evidence” Strader interpreted medical test results, administered vaccinations, performed exams and diagnosed animals without the proper license.

In response to social media attacks from Mill Dog Rescue's supporters after the HuffPost article was published, Nelson wrote the following in a public post on her Facebook page:

"The decision to file a PACFA complaint was one of the most difficult I have ever made. I hoped with every fiber of my being that this behavior would be corrected internally once I met with the chairman of the board. However, it continued until state inspectors stepped in.

Most of you know I was a longtime supporter and champion of this organization. I was horrified when I realized what was happening on many levels. I knew that reporting these numerous violations would make me the target of multiple attacks. There is an option to file complaints anonymously, but I chose not to do that. People need to stand by their convictions unapologetically.

...Accountability for actions, right or wrong, should be acknowledged. Blaming others serves no purpose and casts doubt on what else might be hidden from the public view."

The Independent has asked the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies and state attorney general's office for information on the status of Strader's case. We will update this article upon receiving a response.

Read the full complaint filed with PACFA below:

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