One day late last year, Wyatt Tyler went with his mother, Linda, to donate dog food to the Hardee County Animal Control Kennel in Wauchula, Fla.
Curious about all the yapping dogs, Wyatt asked his mom what happened to the ones that weren’t adopted. She gently explained that they were put to sleep.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of that,” says Wyatt, then 9, “so I decided to do something about it.”
And he wasted no time.
That very day, he spotted a black Labrador retriever named Sasha whose time was about up. Janice Williamson, the kennel superintendent, told Wyatt he could adopt the Lab for only $10, since she had already been spayed. But the Tylers didn’t need another dog—they already had four. So Linda finally agreed—if Wyatt would find another home for Sasha.
He went home and pooled his birthday, tooth fairy, and report card money, returned to the shelter, and got Sasha. Now, he wondered, how do I find someone to adopt her?
Wyatt decided to write a letter about Sasha and took it to the Wauchula Herald-Advocate, where editor and publisher Jim Kelly ran it, including a picture of the dog. To say the least, Sasha wasn’t homeless for long.
Finding the dog a home so quickly made Wyatt realize that he had a gift for this type of work, so he started his own rescue program—Wyatt’s Ruff Rescues—and as of now has found homes for more than 60 dogs.
“He comes out to adopt another animal as soon as he has enough money,” says Williamson. “Wyatt’s program has really helped increase our adoptions.”
Besides his holiday money and what he earns from doing extra chores, Wyatt receives unsolicited donations from people who hear about his work. He also held two Wyatt’s Ruff Rescues yard sales with rummage donated in response to an ad he put in the newspaper, netting nearly $400. And the Animal Welfare League of Hardee County is now donating $25 a month for food and incidentals.
Linda says Wyatt takes full responsibility for feeding, watering, training, and socializing them. And if they don’t have names, he takes care of that, too.
“I call out names to see what they answer to,” he says, “so it’s mainly just what the dog likes.”
Finding good homes is no easy task, but Wyatt, now 10, is resourceful. “There’s a radio station I call, and my mom signed me up with Petfinder.org, so now people all across the country can see my dogs.” Petfinder.org is a virtual animal shelter.
Wyatt has had as many as five rescued dogs at one time, and he seems to find homes for them wherever he goes.
He recently received a certificate of achievement from the City of Wauchula (pop. 4,368), presented by the chief of police, William Beattie. “I had no intention of adopting a dog,” Beattie says, “but he told me about his program, and by the time that little boy got through with me, I had to take one.”
Adopters must sign a promise letter spelling out how they will treat their pet. One promise they make is to bring the dog back to Wyatt if, for any reason, it doesn’t work out. He has had only four dogs returned, all of which have again been adopted.
Wyatt’s older dogs are neutered or spayed for free before he finds homes for them, thanks to his arrangement with a Wauchula veterinarian, Dr. Ross Hendry, who also gives the dogs rabies shots for just $5. “He’s a cool kid with a special mission,” Hendry says, “and I’m working with him to get it done.” Puppy adopters agree to have their pets neutered or spayed when they’re old enough.
In return for a pet, Wyatt asks only for a small donation to cover his costs.
“One woman told Wyatt she didn’t have the money,” Linda says, “so Wyatt gave her the dog. The woman was so touched she burst out in tears.
“Wyatt has always had a heart of gold,” she continues. “He’s the kind of kid who gets up in the morning and makes chocolate milk for his big brother or goes down the road to help his grandparents.”
But even hearts of gold can get bruised a little. “I like all of the dogs,” he says, “but there’s always that one that I hate to give up for adoption. But I just think about how they’re going to a better place than the shelter, and it makes me feel better. That’s what matters.”