You won’t find many Jews from Brooklyn in southern Missouri between Willow Springs and Mountain View, about three hours southwest of St. Louis.
In fact, you won’t find many people between those towns of about 2,000 people each.
That’s not to say that Betty Goldstein, the New York Jew, doesn’t have company.
Earlier this month, she had 25 dogs on her property.
At 76 years old, she still runs a dog rescue operation largely on her own. During an average year, she helps 200 to 300 dogs find homes, she said.
That work is especially important, her supporters say, in a state that the Humane Society of the United States has for the last nine years ranked as the worst in the country in terms of the number of puppy mills.
“It’s not just puppies that she rescues,” said Judy Leventhal, who belongs to Central Reform Congregation and adopted dogs from Goldstein. “If there is an abandoned animal, if there is a stray, if there is somebody that isn’t taking care of the dog, she will take the pet no matter what…She is a saint to animals.”
Goldstein grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in the country’s biggest city but “always loved being in the country,” she said.
She spent her summers milking cows and leading horseback rides on a farm in Pennsylvania.
Goldstein moved to Missouri because her brother was living in Cape Girardeau and told her how “how pretty it was.”
The brother picked up Goldstein, then 30, from the St. Louis airport and drove her through southern Missouri, where she scouted real estate listings. She found property she liked in Bakersfield in the Ozarks, where she lived for three years.
Then she moved to Florida, where her parents were living, for a decade before returning to Missouri and buying property in Birch Tree, a town of less than 1,000 people in southwest Missouri.
Goldstein decided she wanted to adopt a rescue dog and found a St. Bernard she liked in Kansas City. The organization wanted to make sure Goldstein’s property was safe for the dog, so they sent an inspector from Springfield.
The inspector went to lunch with Goldstein and told her, “You ought to get into rescue.”
And so it began.
Goldstein first did rescue transports, which she described as “a relay race where the dog is the baton.”
For example, Goldstein would drive 50 to 100 miles on the journey from the dog’s origin in Springfield, Mo., to an adoptive home in New York. She would then meet another volunteer who would do another 50 or so miles.
About 20 years ago, Goldstein added fencing around her house and started to visit local pounds and the Humane Society and rescued dogs. She would bring the dogs to a veterinarian to get whatever treatment it needed and then put it up for adoption.
“That gradually grew into a full-time thing,” said Goldstein, who named her organization Thistle Hill Rescue.
Goldstein charges a sliding scale based on the type of dog and makes enough money to cover her expenses.
She charges the most — as much as $500 — for “little, cute fuzzies,” like bichon frise puppies. Those help cover the expenses for older, big dogs, which often require more expensive care at the veterinarian and are harder to place in new homes. (The people who adopt dogs that have not been spayed or neutered can receive a rebate for some of the adoption fee once they show proof that the pet has had such a procedure.)
“After 20 years, I have it pretty well figured out what I can charge for a dog that is still reasonable, still less than what you would pay for a dog if you went to a breeder or a pet shop and still come out ahead at the end of each month,” Goldstein said.
Leventhal, who owns an advertising agency, discovered Thistle Hill through Adoptapet.com. She submitted that she was looking for a miniature dachshund and willing to drive 200 to 300 miles.
Once the site alerted her about one at Thistle Hill, Leventhal visited and saw the condition of the dogs, and “it just warmed my heart,” she said.
Three days after Leventhal brought Rufus back to St. Louis, Goldstein called and said, “You’re not going to believe this. I got his brother, too.”
So Leventhal also adopted Rusty.
“I could just tell how much love she gave these animals. You could just tell by looking at them,” she said.
Thistle Hill’s Facebook page is filled with similar reviews.
“Betty is the most loving rescue owner I’ve ever met,” wrote one person. “She was so thorough throughout the adoption process and took the time to answer all my questions. We drove 10 hours to get our newest family member and I just can’t thank her enough for all the hard work she does.”
About a year ago, Goldstein moved to the property between Willow Springs and Mountain View to be closer to her veterinarian, who then promptly died.
Her new 3-acre property features a 2,500 square-foot-building with a 6-by-12 feet kennel and six 10-by-10 feet kennels. That’s where she keeps the small dogs.
The big dogs are in a fenced yard.
Goldstein also has six small dogs, two big dogs and two cats, all of which she considers pets.
A couple visits twice a week and cleans the kennels and makes repairs, but otherwise, Goldstein does everything on her own.
She lists her rescue dogs on sites like Adoptapet and Petfinder.com and is typically able to find homes for them.
But not always. Older, large, mixed-breed dogs are the most difficult to place.
She recently had to have a dog euthanized. He attacked dogs at the homes of two people who tried to adopt him, so they returned him to Goldstein. She brought him to the vet who put him down.
“I cry, and I hate doing it, and I don’t do it often. It’s only if a dog is too sick to be saved,” she said.
In spite of her concern for dogs and experience with ones who have been abused, Goldstein does not condemn commercial breeders.
“They are just people trying to make a living and feed their families. They are not evil people,” she said.
Still, according to the Humane Society report released in May, the states has 21 puppy mills, which the organization defines as “a dog breeding operation, offering dogs for monetary compensation, in which the physical, psychological and/or behavioral needs of all or some of the dogs are not being consistently fulfilled due to inadequate housing, shelter, staffing, nutrition, socialization, sanitation, exercise, veterinary care and/or inappropriate breeding.”
About a decade ago, Missouri voters passed Proposition B, a measure to place more restrictions on the state’s dog-breeding industry. But lawmakers in rural areas then passed legislation that largely gutted the law, despite the outcry from groups such as the Humane Society.
Goldstein now says the key is educating the public so that people stop buying puppies from pet shops or breeders.
“We need to make the public aware of all those dogs being killed in shelters and pounds, being taken out into the woods and shot,” said Goldstein
Stuck at home at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people adopted dogs. It got so busy that Goldstein sometimes only had two to three dogs available for adoption.
A few months ago, the bubble burst, and the price of dogs came down again, Goldstein said.
“People went back to work, kids went back to school and dogs are getting dumped,” she said.
She now again consistently has plenty of dogs available for adoption, which you can see here.
How long does Goldstein plan to continue her operation?
“I will do it until I can’t do it anymore,” she said. “I enjoy what I do; it gives me plenty of free time in between vet visits and runs to Walmart to pick up feed and runs to Tractor Supply to pick up bedding and then more runs to the vet. In between those times, I can just kick back in an easy chair.”
Even though that Goldstein no longer lives in the Brooklyn neighborhood where you could go to the corner and buy a knish, she said Judaism is still “absolutely” part of her identity.
And if you adopt a dog from Goldstein in late November or early December this year, you will see a menorah in her window.