HBO to air documentary on woman who saves Pa. puppy mill dogs

A dental hygenist from Staten Island has single-handedly saved 2,000 dogs from Pennsylvania puppy mills.

Her name is Laura Flynn-Amato. A number of years back she sent letters to every kennel in Lancaster County offering to take their old, sick or non-producing breeding dogs. Breeders responded and she has been traveling there every month pulling dogs from rabbit hutches and transporting them to rescues where they are placed - often after long rehabilitation efforts - into loving homes.

Laura introduced me to my first puppy mill survivors. In the spring of 2007 I met Laura and her mother in the parking lot of a motel in Lancaster where dozens of volunteers turned out to meet their van. Piles of toys, treats and blankets lined the asphalt. A groomer stood ready to clip out their mats and several vans from various area rescues ready to take the dogs in were nearby. 

As they unloaded the dogs, hands seemed to appear from nowhere passing the small, frightened dogs overhead and into the next person's arms for a hug and walk. Most moving of all was the moment a little West Highland Terrier was lifted up, her chain collar digging into her neck, USDA tag dangling. Out of the crowd came a pair of wirecutters and a man snipped off the collar. Free at last. Everyone cheered.

With the efforts to pass anti-puppy mill legislation building steam in Harrisburg at the time, I had hoped to profile Laura for the Inquirer, but at the time she was too afraid if her name appeared the breeders would shut her out and dogs would die.

Soon the world will know her story. Laura is the subject of an HBO documentary "Madonna of the Mills" which airs tomorrow night on HBO2 at 8 p.m. Inquirer TV critic Jonathan Storm writes a splended companion profile here.

Look for Main Line Animal Rescue's Bill Smith and Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animals, who helped draft the sweeping changes to Pennsylvania's dog law. Both figure prominently in the film.