CALUMET - When Aimee Ryding heard about the nearly 400 dogs that were seized from a puppy mill in downstate Cheshire Township April 9, she didn't think twice about making the 11-hour drive.
"When I got a hold of Karen (the adoption/rescue coordinator) at the Allegan County Animal Shelter, I asked if they needed our help," Ryding said. "She said yes. This was around noon and by 1 p.m., I was ready to go."
Ryding, who operates Because of Mandy dog rescue out of her Calumet home, took a quick shower, tossed some crates in her car and hit the road. Connecting with her friend Kelly Hazel, who works with the Michigan Pekingese Rescue in Munising, they made their way below the Mackinac Bridge. About 50 miles past Grand Rapids, their Chevrolet Trailblazer pulled into Allegan County Animal Shelter parking lot around 12:30 a.m. April 11.
"I could not believe it when I walked in there," Ryding said. "All of their rooms were literally filled with dogs."
The shelter initially prepared to take in as many as 60 dogs, Ryding said, and that quickly jumped to 90. When all was said and done, "it was almost 400."
"They had vets and volunteers there immediately," Ryding said. "They turned their old shelter, which was across the parking lot, into makeshift kennels."
Barking, screeching and yelping poured from the old shelter building and the new facility, Ryding said. Many of the dogs that were rescued were Shih tzu puppies.
"Kelly and I are both in it for the underdog - the one that's sick, the one that's not a pure breed, the one that is disfigured," she said. "We literally walked by all of the dogs that were puppies and the ones that were perfect because we knew they would go immediately. They are the ones that are adopted first."
In that case, Ryding selected ones she considered to have "major issues."
"Peanut," a Yorkshire and Shih tzu mix, suffered eye ulcers, severe anemia and weighed 3 pounds.
"We thought he was 7 or 8 and he's not," she said. "He's much younger."
Another Shih tzu mix named "Lorax," had eyes that "looked like they were glazed over with blue Vaseline and he was very afraid."
"I took him because I thought he was at least 10," Ryding said. "The vet said he was between 2 and 4."
Living in their own waste for as long as they had, one can only imagine the odor.
"It's the worst smell you'll ever smell," she said. "Even being by them you can smell it on your clothes. It's just horrendous."
Once their car was packed comfortably with 14 dogs, they left the shelter at 3:30 a.m. And not a single one of the pups made a peep the whole way back.
"I think they were happy to be warm and they all had eaten before we left," she said. "What a lot of people don't realize is for puppy mill dogs, it's their first time to do anything - walk on grass, have a bath, chew on a rawhide, drink clean water, eat normal food every day and just be held. They really don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
In addition to Because of Mandy, Ryding said other Upper Peninsula organizations supported the Allegan County Animal Shelter by taking in some of the dogs she transported including the Copper Country Humane Society, Alger County Animal Shelter and the Michigan Pekingese Rescue.
Ryding said the two dogs she was taking in suffered urinary tract infections, eye and ear infections and flea allergies. For that reason, she dropped by Bayshore Veterinary Hospital in Marquette on her way home to see when she could get them in for treatment.
"One of their workers offered to foster them because we needed to have them close to a vet in case something else happened," she said. "One of the vets donated eye drops for one of our puppy mill dogs and the other one donated the antibiotic for the other one. The staff treats them like they're their own."
While rescuing dogs tugs at Ryding's heartstrings, she said knowing she's taking the ones that need her the most is what carries her through.
"It's very sad but I know they're going to get help," she said. "At least I know they're going to be warm and fed and have people around them. That's what's important."
In fact, Ryding made a second transport for the Allegan shelter April 14. A volunteer from the downstate shelter met her at the Mackinac Bridge, where Ryding picked up six additional dogs. While some went to foster homes, others were taken in by shelters. On April 6, Good Friday, Ryding picked up three dogs in Chicago.
Of course, a lot of what she does couldn't be done without the support from the community.
Ryding said it was donations that funded her gas expense to and from Allegan. Donations and money raised through ongoing fundraisers is also used for veterinary bills, she said.
"We do chip-ins on Facebook," she said. "And adoption fees are put toward that, too."
Ryding said an adopter of Because of Mandy's is currently spearheading a Pampered Chef fundraiser. For information on how to help, visit facebook.com/events/209867735782504/.
While operating a dog rescue can take a toll on a person emotionally, it's also a lot of work.
Ryding said she is grateful to all of her supporters who stick by her. To date, she has nearly 2,400 followers on Facebook.
"We've had a huge response from volunteers so we have more foster homes than we've ever had before," she said. "And we have more offering to do transports and help with grooming, bathing ... everything."
Although it would be nice to have a break soon, Riding said she never knows when she's going to get a call that there's a dog in need.
"I can't quit now," she said. "There's so many dogs that need me right now."
Because of Mandy does not adopt dogs out as gifts. To view photos of dogs available for adoption, view Because of Mandy's Facebook page or call Ryding at 337-0131.
Anyone interested in making a monetary donation or sending a gas card, can do so by sending it to Because of Mandy, 21921 Hwy M-203, Calumet, MI, 49913.
For more information, visit becauseofmandy.weebly.com.