America has a terrible secret: 99% of the puppies sold in U.S. pet stores come from puppy mills, and nearly 100% of them have parasites at the time of purchase. Pet stores around the country sell dogs riddled with infections and ailments because their parents are housed in inhumane facilities, relentlessly bred and then callously discarded.
Laura, an unassuming animal rights crusader from Staten Island, NY, is fighting for change, one dog at a time. Exposing the cruel practices of American puppy mills, the disturbing but ultimately uplifting documentary MADONNA OF THE MILLS chronicles this woman’s remarkable rescue work of as she drives through rural Pennsylvania from puppy mill to puppy mill.
Kathleen Summers, manager of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign at the Humane Society of United States, explains, “At puppy mills, dogs basically spend their entire lives in small wire cages. They never get out for exercise. They don’t have treats or toys. They don’t have, often, clean food or water, and they’re basically there to do nothing but make babies.”
Laura learned about puppy mills five years ago. Since then, she has saved as many of the breeding dogs as she can, relocating them to new and loving homes. She drives hours to Lancaster County, Pa., where she has cultivated relationships with numerous Amish and Mennonite breeders, many of whom entered the business as a lucrative way to supplement their farm incomes.
Though the practice of mass-breeding puppies is inhumane and illegal, breeders continue to thrive under lax regulation.
To date, Laura has saved more than 2,000 dogs, in the process changing both her own life and the lives of families fortunate enough to adopt one of these remarkable puppy mill survivors. Over the course of MADONNA OF THE MILLS, Laura rescues:
Danny, a male golden retriever who was traumatized by a lifetime of incarceration, but overcame his phobias and now provides companionship to a family with an autistic son; Liberty, a female retriever who had a total fear of people, and tried to hide during training class with other dogs and owners; Vivien Leigh, a female cocker spaniel who had rotting teeth, sores on her paws and ears, and a skittish personality; and Maisy, another female cocker who was “de-barked” by a farmer who crushed her voice box with a lead pipe.
In addition to interviews with Laura’s friends and family, MADONNA OF THE MILLS includes insights from activists at grass-roots organizations, including Bill from Main Line Animal Rescue, and officials from the U.S. Humane Society, as well as veterinarians who cite the dismal health records – parasites, infections, hip dysplasia, kennel cough and more – of pet-shop puppies, who will likely cost their owners far more in vet bills than the original price of the animal. The film also features a segment on Patti Page, the singer and dog lover who recently re-recorded her hit “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” as “Do You See That Doggie in the Shelter?” to encourage families to obtain their puppies from shelters instead of pet shops.
Director Andrew Nibley is an author, director, actor and comic. In previous incarnations he was a journalist, covering four U.S. Presidents, and worked as a CEO in the news, internet, music and advertising industries. MADONNA OF THE MILLS is his first film.
Producer Kelly Colbert is an advertising executive who has been a “foster mother” for puppy mill dogs through Rawhide Rescue. She traveled to Cameroon in 2009 to care for abused gorillas and chimpanzees as a volunteer with the Cameroon Wildlife Foundation.
MADONNA OF THE MILLS is produced by Kelly Colbert; written and directed by Andrew Nibley; editor, Erinnisse Heuer; director of photography, Michael O’Mahony; animation, Krasimir Galabov.