By Nathalie Friedman
Tyler’s Rescue Inc., a nonprofit dog rescue based in Sag Harbor and founded by Lizzy Goldstein in 2014, is named for a neglected and abused pit bull euthanized by an animal shelter for behavioral issues on January 30, 2014.
The shelter, where Ms. Goldstein was a volunteer, lacked the necessary resources to accommodate and train him until he was ready for adoption. Ms. Goldstein shared a unique bond with Tyler and has since worked to create a foster-based rescue organization in his honor — where she offers shelter dogs the second chance her canine friend did not receive.
Her organization is “a true Long Island rescue” that resists pulling from out of New York State and focuses on the problem in local shelters, she said. “Our goal is to help Long Island as a whole, before we consider moving to New York City and elsewhere.”
Ms. Goldstein called attention to the bias that dogs like Tyler face when being considered for euthanasia. She shared: “When I bonded with Tyler, he had a record of biting people out of fear. The rescue center was limited in helping him, but rather than send him to a different shelter, they euthanized him. Meanwhile, the shelter saved a Lab with worse behavioral issues than Tyler, because of his relationships with staff. These relationships were similar to me and Tyler’s. Their decision made me aware of the [severity of] discrimination toward certain breeds, like pit bulls.”
Her rescue’s mission is centered on giving all shelter dogs a true second chance by matching them with foster families with a clear picture of a dog’s challenges, training dogs carefully with positive reinforcement, and avoiding euthanasia at all costs. They never use choke or shock collars.
Ms. Goldstein and her team’s proficiency in dog training ties into their nonprofit’s overarching mission: to offer dogs an opportunity to recover from trauma. Tyler’s Rescue provides a wide range of training classes, from obedience and agility, to tricks and service dog certification. The variety of training programs connotes that all dogs, no matter their behavioral issues or biting records, have the potential to grow, change, and emotionally improve once placed in a safe environment.
“It doesn’t matter what a dog’s history is — we will really identify the root of its problems and try to help it,” Ms. Goldstein said.
She explained that she has had a lot of experience in dog shelters prior to the foundation of her nonprofit. She voiced the sad reality that many will try to cover up their return rates because they are more interested in getting a pending adoptee “out” than addressing its severe behavioral issues. This accelerated process of adoption is not effective — but inevitable for overcrowded shelters that are required to accept dogs, even if it puts them beyond their capacity.
“Other shelters try every day to work with all of their dogs — but if they are a town shelter, they have to take in every dog,” Ms. Goldstein said. “There capacities are too big, and that’s never fair to anyone.”
A key factor in Ms. Goldstein’s success is that Tyler’s Rescue never pushes to get dogs out — volunteers are honest with themselves, and future owners, about whether a dog has recovered yet. Ms. Goldstein explained: “We always wait until they are ready. With large shelters, it’s a conveyor belt, and the dog gets returned with two parties damaged. We try not to be like that.”
In contrast, Tyler’s Rescue has a 98 percent success rate. The only dog who was returned to them was first evaluated and assigned to a compatible owner. They were a perfect fit, but due to an unrelated accident that left the owner impaired, the owner felt morally obligated to return the dog.
Tyler’s Rescue is foster-based, which means that dogs are not kept in confined spaces, and rather given temporary families and homes. This gives abused dogs a chance to decompress and finally begin to feel safe.
Before any dog is assigned to a family, temporarily or permanently, they are behaviorally and medically evaluated. Potential foster parents complete a detailed application, and based on their answers, Ms. Goldstein’s team will check references, call their vets, and handpick a dog that is suited to the family’s lifestyle. Tyler’s Rescue creates an archive of every dog’s previous foster homes, so that a detailed report exists before a dog is finally adopted.
“I want anybody who fosters or adopts from us to know everything possible about the dog that they can,” Ms. Goldstein said. “At other rescues, I’d see people inquire about a dog and be misinformed. I hated that. I told myself when I started Tyler’s Rescue that I would never let it happen.”
This candidness is significant to the family that is adopting a dog, and any dog who will be psychologically affected by being moved back and forth.
Ms. Goldstein’s team comprises people with different levels of experience. She has volunteers who are strictly in charge of transport, and others who learn to train dogs within a safe environment.
Right now, between transport, administration, and dog training, Ms. Goldstein has a team of about 10 people volunteering. “They are all amazing, and I’ve just gotten about 20 people hoping to volunteer with us,” she said. “We don’t discriminate against age — we are getting a lot of kids 14-plus involved. They care for easier dogs, because we want them to be safe, but they can work their way up at a slow pace.”
Tyler’s Rescue currently has about 20 dogs in its care. A majority are in foster homes, and about seven are in Ms. Goldstein’s own house. The organization tries to limit the number of dogs to 20 at a time, to avoid overworking staff and volunteers.
“We are not about the money or numbers,” she said. “We are small at the moment, so every dog that we get in, we want to make sure sticks with the family it’s adopted by. We only take what we can handle, and if we cannot take in a dog, we reach out to others.”
Tyler’s Rescue has two upcoming events this summer. In July, the organization will host “Rage for Canines,” where participants can use a baseball bat to destroy inanimate objects of their choice. This fundraiser follows suit with a new trend, Anger Rooms, in which visitors can get pain out of their system — a therapy of sorts. In honor of the COVID-19 pandemic, where everyone is stressed, scared, and frustrated, Ms. Goldstein hopes this will help to relieve communal angst while also supporting canines in need.
In order to get attention from potential loving foster families, Tyler’s Rescue spends a significant amount of time posting about their dogs’ true selves online. By advertising constantly, the team underscores that their canines are not defined by problematic track records, but rather the lovable traits which lie beneath their trauma.
“We advertise our dogs like crazy,” Ms. Goldstein said. “A lot of shelters put pictures of different dogs up, and leave them there. But we are always on Instagram, Facebook, and other social platforms, showing who our dogs are, and what makes them unique. Like, here’s what this dog does. They’re silly, they’re goofy.
“These dogs are so grateful, they’re so happy to go into a home, and their big, loving personalities just explode.”