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Film

'Madonna of the Mills' Premieres on HBO2, on 24 August

"What's so neat about his business is, when the economy goes bad, people buy puppies." So says Edwin, a Mennonite puppy breeder who's showing his facility for the documentary, Madonna of the Mills. It's like that Edwin wouldn’t describe his place as a puppy mill, but one look at the stacks of tiny cages full of whimpering and yelping dogs suggests that he's not primarily concerned with the animals' health and safety. Andrew Nibley's film, which premieres on 24 August on HBO2, makes sure you know how monstrous these mills are, how the puppies they produce for sale at pet stores are typically diseased and how the female dogs, the breeders, live in misery for their entire lives. What the breeders do is legal, even "regulated" by the FDA, but, says a consumer and animal rights advocate named Karen, "Only to protect the farmers. No one is looking out for the dogs." That is, except individual rescuers like Laura Flynn Amato, a dental office manager from Staten Island who makes it her business to travel through Pennsylvania's Amish and Mennonite areas and pick up dogs. That she has to do so by registering as a breeder is not a little ironic, though she says that it helps her to maintain at least nominal relationships with other breeders, who will allow her to take dogs who have long been abused and traumatized. The film shows some of her rescues, now living with new owners and still suffering from physical and emotional injuries. The film, sometimes amateurish and always passionate, is organized around Laura's efforts, with segments introduced by shots of her driving though beautiful country (with an assistant, "Laura, Too") in search of dogs who are barely surviving, in heartbreaking conditions. Interviews with Laura's family members underscore her resolve and her love of animals. ("You have to get used to coming in third," says her husband, standing by the barbeque in their back yard. That is, behind her the rescue dogs and their own dog.) She's saved some 2000 dogs so far. And Laura hopes that by exposing the problem -- in this film and previously, on Oprah -- she and her colleagues can save more in the future.

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