Theresa Strader has devoted her life to rescuing vulnerable dogs from some of the worst situations imaginable. For the past five years, Strader, founder of the Peyton, Colo., organization National Mill Dog Rescue, has saved nearly 8,000 dogs from horrific living conditions at puppy mills.
“If they don’t wind up in a home, they end up at my house,” Strader tells FOX 21 News. “Not that I have that right now.”
Strader’s home was one of those destroyed in the Black Forest fire, a raging wildfire that has claimed over 500 homes in the Colorado Springs area so far. In the wake of the blaze, Strader is still in shock over all she’s lost.
“You know, we weren’t even in the evacuation zone,” Strader tells the Denver Post. “We were a mile east. My house completely burned down.”
After 17 happy years raising a family and housing rescued dogs in her now-destroyed home, Strader says all she can do is be thankful she and her loved ones made it out of the inferno alive. Using what she’d learned after the destructive wildfires that have raged through Colorado over the past few years, Strader knew all she could do was gather her children and pets, then run to safety.
“We got what was most important to us and that was our kids and our pets,” Strader tells WWLP 22 News. “Obviously there’s shock and sadness involved in all of it for me. But we got what we love. After the fire last year and Waldo Canyon we knew what we needed to take, it wasn’t a lot.”
“We got all our dogs, chickens. The only thing we didn’t get was the fish,” Strader adds. “When you see how fast that [fire] can come down on you, life becomes very precious.”
Though she lost her home, Strader is grateful that another important building is still standing — Lily’s Haven, the 160-acre National Mill Dog Rescue sanctuary facility, was not harmed in the wildfire.
Strader is now living out of Lily’s Haven, which was named for the first puppy mill dog Strader rescued — an Italian Greyhound named Lily. Though Lily only lived with the Strader family for 15 short months before she passed, the former mill dog made a lasting impression. Lily’s grave still stands in the woods behind the Strader’s home.
Lily is a big part of the Strader family’s emotional connection to their home and the land it once stood on. Strader remembers in the moments before fleeing her home with her family, her husband’s eyes filled with tears. “I said, ‘what’s the matter?’ He said, ‘Lily’s still in the woods.’ I said she’s in the ground [and] she’ll be there when we get back,” says Strader.
She adds that she and her family plan to rebuild their home on the same plot of land in the woods.
In the meantime, Strader is doing all she can to help the 140 dogs now housed at Lily’s Haven. With the wildfire now 75 percent contained and the Peyton area given the ‘all-clear,’ new dogs are arriving at the National Mill Dogs Rescue facility every day, Strader explains.
“People are like, your house just burned down [and] you’re going to get more animals?” Strader says. “I say yeah of course! It’s not heroic. It’s what we do.”
Continuing her rescue work has kept Strader’s mind focused, not on what she has lost, but what she can do to help others — both on two legs and on four.
“It’s comforting for me to be able to do that,” she says. “That’s what we do.”