Did the Humane Society of the United States Endorse a Retail Rescue?

Pretending To Be a Veterinarian Doesn’t Help Animals

-Ed Sayres, Director of Animal Welfare Education at Petland Inc., former President of American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

I thought there was consensus among all animal welfare organizations that falsifying veterinary reports was not in the best interest of the welfare of companion animals. However, last week The State Board of Veterinary Medicine State of Colorado finalized a Cease and Desist order against National Mill Dog Rescue (NMDR), one of the most admired animal rescue organizations in America for practicing veterinary medicine without a license.

The Order from The State Board stated, “After independent investigation, the Board found, that credible evidence exists that Theresa Strader, Executive Director of National Mill Dog Rescue has acted without the required license to practice veterinary medicine.”

“Specifically, Theresa Strader administered Rabies vaccinations without direct supervision of a veterinarian and permitted use of a licensed veterinarian’s signature stamp on vaccination certificates without the veterinarian’s permission.”

So it was very surprising to see the The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Stop Puppy Mills team posting a happy photo of their October 22 visit to the new National Mill Dog Rescue “state of the art vet clinic.”

HSUS, once the largest animal welfare organization in America, publishes the most respected magazine for sheltering and rescue professionals, Animal Sheltering, and for decades has hosted the largest trade show for animal welfare organizations in the country, Animal Care Expo.

Given their decades long leadership role in the field of animal sheltering it’s hard to understand why they are not alerting the field to the unethical practices of NMDR rather than remaining silent on the issue and then following up with a photo op and praise for the veterinary clinic.

There has always been close ties between HSUS and NMDR through their respective puppy mill campaigns. I expected that NMDR being cited by The Colorado State Board of Veterinary Medicine for practicing veterinary medicine without a license would terminate that relationship.

The Whistleblower

Of course, none of these practices would have come to light if it wasn’t for a whistleblower. And this whistleblower stepped forward and identified herself. The Colorado Department of Agriculture investigated her complaints and substantiated her claims resulting in one year probation for NMDR and a $15,000 fine. Jene Nelson, the whistleblower and former Marketing Director for NMDR claimed that

NMDR had been transporting dogs into Colorado without health and rabies certificates, falsifying rabies certificates, transporting sick animals into Colorado, transporting underage puppies into Colorado and not providing medical care in a timely fashion.

Jene brought these complaints to the NMDR Board of Directors but no substantive action was taken by the Board to change these practices.  The complaints were then brought to the attention of The Colorado Department of Agriculture for investigation. Nick Fisher, Pet Animal and Facilities Act (PACFA) Program Manager conducted the investigation and confirmed a majority of the whistleblower’s complaints.  NMDR admitted to 15 violations of the Pet Animal and Facilities Act which resulted in the one year probation and the $15,000 fine. PACFA Program Manager, Nick Fisher said it was the largest fine he could remember.

False Promises

Partnering with an organizations like NMDR on the puppy mill issue has not yielded the promised results of the HSUS Puppy Mill Campaign. Instead it has exposed a deep network of misdirection between some breeders and some rescue organizations. On July 14 The Huffington Post concluded a six month investigation of NMDR and published a 7,600 word investigative expose on NMDR’s “puppy mill” rescue operation. It revealed that NMDR was actually buying puppies from commercial  breeders.

Their former facilities manager, Cindy McKeon told the Huffington Post “NMDR is a dog distributing company that is posing as a rescue.”

Several of the breeders HuffPost spoke with agreed about the impact that Strader’s concept of “puppy mill rescue” is having on their kennels,“She has been a godsend to me” said Debbie Snyder of D&D Kennels in Kansas.

The Huffington Post investigation also verified that NMDR was buying puppies from 3 breeders who were on the HSUS Horrible Hundred List.

While HSUS continues to assure donors that their legislative initiative to ban the retail sale of puppies will close puppy mills there is no evidence to support those claims.

There is such a high demand for pure bred puppies that retail bans have actually expanded the unregulated market for unlicensed commercial breeders who are not subject to federal, state or county inspection or regulations.

Mike Bober, president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Committee called National Mill a frustrating example of the “underground market” for commercially bred puppies that his organization has argued would result from such retail bans.

Puppy Mill Rescue, Or Not?

National Mill Dog Rescue claims to be a savior for dogs in desperate need of help. A HuffPost investigation shows that is not always the case.

Posted by HuffPost on Friday, July 12, 2019

Do the Donors Care?

It’s hard to comprehend why HSUS would continue to support an organization that admits violating laws enacted to protect animals. And it’s also difficult to understand why they continue to claim their campaign for retail bans are successful when there is no verification that they have had any measurable impact on the closure of puppy mills. Today in The Chronicle of Philanthropy there was a newly released survey by the Better Business Bureau stating that 70% of respondents said that trusting a charity before making a donation is “essential.” The survey also reported that 54% of respondents said that “accomplishments” were one of the most important signals of trust for a charity and third party evaluations were listed as the second most trusted influence for Americans evaluating a charity’s trustworthiness.

HSUS was once the largest animal welfare organization in America in terms of annual revenue. Recently the charity rating of HSUS has been downgraded to a 2 star rating or a D. However, over the past 5 years their contributions have declined while most local and national animal welfare organizations like ASPCA and Best Friends have flourished. Since 2014 contributions to the ASPCA have increased from $163M to $245M (50%) while HSUS contributions have declined from $178M to $171M (-4%). Animal welfare donors recent pattern of giving seems to be in line with the findings of the Better Business Bureau donor survey. There is a trust gap between donors and HSUS. For donors to consider donating or continue their ongoing support it takes verified accomplishments to earn that trust. That is not good news for HSUS or National Mill Dog Rescue.


Further Reading on America’s Growing “Retail Rescue” Problem: From the Huffington Post


CharityWatch Downgrades Humane Society of the U.S. to “D” Rating


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