By day, she's an assistant in a dentist's office on Staten Island.
Then comes the weekend, and Laura Flynn Amato transforms herself into Madonna of the Mills. Such is the nickname she's been given by filmmaker Andy Nibley of the West Village, whose new documentary chronicles Laura's efforts to save thousands of dogs who might otherwise be destroyed.
"What Laura has done is incredible," said Nibley, who made the 51-minute film with his wife, producer Kelly Colbert. "On weekends she drives down to Pennsylvania on her own nickel to save 35 to 50 dogs. We follow four of the dogs in this movie whse lives are spared. One of them's a golden retriever who ends up with an autistic boy on the loiwer east side. Just a really moving story."
The film takes on puppy mills, the controversial commercial breeding farms which are licensed by the U.S. government but have frequently come under fire from animal rights groups, like the Humane Society.
Defenders say the well-run farms are a benefit to the economy and also assure pure breeds. Critics say the poorly-run mills treat dogs like prisoners. Some are stacked in cages, never cleaned or allowed to play.
"When I first learned about this," said Flynn Amato, "it was extremely upsetting to me. I cried the whole week and I said I have to do something."
She said the best way for New Yorkers to avoid puppy mills is to adopt their pets from shelters, as opposed to buying them from pet stores. But many pet merchants say they research the animals' past, and try to make sure they're from safely run farms.
New Yorkers like Anna Koonin, out walking her french bulldog Superman, said the love between owner and pet is best characterized this way: "It's worse when the dog is sick than when I'm sick. He had a cold last week and I wished I had the cold instead."