Amato takes regular trips through Lancaster, Pennsylvania, cultivating relationships with the Amish and Mennonite breeders who make a large chunk of change breeding dogs and selling their puppies to pet stores. The mill dogs are kept in squalid, horrific conditions, spending their lives in wire cages without clean water or food. They are never allowed outside for exercise or play; their sole purpose is to breed. Once their breeding days are over, these dogs are euthanized, unless Laura manages to save them.
So far, she has managed to save over 2,000 dogs.
After learning about puppy mills five years ago, Laura has fought the good fight for these animals. Recruiting her parents and friends as helpers, she brings her rescues to Pickering Meade Farm in Chester, Pennsylvania. There the dogs are nursed to health and rehabilitated, since when they leave the mills they are not only physically ill with parasites and infections, they are emotionally damaged as well. Eventually, when they are deemed adoptable, they are placed into loving homes.
The stories of four of the rescued dogs are told in the documentary. Liberty, Maisy, Vivien Leigh, and Danny each have their own heartbreaking tales of incarceration, ending with much happier stories of freedom, because of Laura’s efforts. Interviews with veterinarians and animal activists are interspersed with disturbing footage from the mills.
Oprah Winfrey’s programs on puppy mills helped spread the word about how these establishments continue to exist and thrive. The publicity certainly shed light on the problem, but in order to truly combat the mills, the experts and activists suggest that prospective pet owners rescue a dog from a shelter rather than buy one from a pet store.
Madonna of the Mills is disturbing in many ways and is guaranteed to have you reaching for the tissues. But unsettling as it is, the program is absolutely essential viewing. The bright side is that people like Laura Amato do exist, devoting their lives to rescuing dogs who would otherwise be condemned to death.
Madonna of the Mills debuts on August 24 on HBO.