Our Cover Dog Josh's beginnings were decidedly NOT the stuff dreams are made of. He was just 48 hours old when his breeder dropped him off at a shelter to be euthanized because he was born with a cleft palate. Lucky for Josh, an angel—in the form of one Tina Lythgoe—decided that was not to be. And the rest is history…

You know that feeling when you meet someone for the first time and there’s a moment of recognition, like, these are my kind of people? That’s exactly the experience I had when I met Tina Lythgoe and her husband Lenny Leichtweisz, the couple behind Josh, this issue’s Cover Dog Contest winner. If you love animals, you’ll find in them kindred spirits and then some.

In their Sun Valley, California community, Tina is the person to whom everyone brings the sick and wounded animals they don’t know what to do with—injured squirrels, a surrendered miniature pig, a kitten, found in box, so brand new its umbilical cord was still attached. Tina takes them all in, nursing them back to health. She does this outside of any official group or affiliation—just one woman making a difference by following the dictates of her heart.

It’s to her that all the difficult cases seem to find their way, from the tortoise (yes, tortoise) that needed a home to the hospice requests. One little guy hobbling around her family-owned grooming shop is Hank, an elderly terrier mix—Tina estimates he’s around 16 years old. Tina took Hank in as a hospice case so he could live out his last few days in a loving environment; fast forward a year and a half and Hank is still hanging in there, pegging around. It’s amazing what love can do.

Tina’s husband Lenny—tattooed, a roller pigeon enthusiast—works with the rescue group Leave No Paws Behind and pulls as many as four senior dogs a day from kill shelters around southern California; they’re the dogs literally no one else will take. If such a thing doesn’t endear you to someone, I don’t know what will.

Josh himself was such a hard luck case, though you wouldn’t know it to look at him now. Born with a cleft palate, his breeder had dropped him off at a shelter to be euthanized; he was just 48 hours old. Word of the little guy’s plight came to Tina and she rushed to pluck him from the shelter, bottle-feeding him through the dicey early days. The critters Tina takes in frequently need round the clock care so she was no stranger to the sleepless nights his care would at first engender. “I don’t give up,” Tina notes, “So I usually win.”

What motivates her? “I have always felt the need to help everything, including what most people consider pests, like gophers, rats, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, pigeons," Tina says. "I believe everything deserves a chance—no matter what it is. I learned everything from my mom. I watched her do it when I was a kid and I learned it from her. The local animal shelter is always dropping off all different kinds of critters to me because I will never say no. I will take on anything, and I mean anything. Everybody just knows to bring any hurt, sick or motherless animals to me. And I will help them! I stay up hours on end breathing the life back into them.” 

Her journey with Josh, who now, at a year old, is the picture of health—no palate surgery required—inspired her to start a Facebook page, Josh and His Critters, and Josh immediately gained fans around the world inspired by his triumph over adversity and message that we’re all perfect in our imperfectness.

“Birth defects don't need to be a death sentence,” Tina exclaims. “There is help out there!” adding, “They can contact me and I will help.”

The most amazing part is that Tina is not an organization. “That’s why I’m always broke,” she laughs. “I do it out of love for the animals.”

Though it was Josh alone that won the cover feature, we were moved to put Tina on the cover too. How could we not when this duo is such an inspiration? Here’s to Tina, Lenny, and all the rescuers out there. Thank you for championing the underdog.


Love This? Check Out all the Runner-up Dogs from our Cover Dog Contest!