Dog walking service to benefit cancer patients begins in La Jolla
By Ashley Mackin
After more than four years of treatment at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Michael Levinsky of Pacific Beach said he gained deep insight into what life is like for cancer patients. For many people, immune systems are compromised and finances falter.
“I wanted to find a way to get cancer patients, like myself, out and making money,” Levinsky said, acknowledging that many patients in recovery cannot (or choose not) to return to a conventional office environment, where germs are rampant.
Feeling stronger this year, he decided to start Paws for a Cause, a service that links cancer patients with people who will pay to have their dogs walked for a fee. “I needed something to do. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life and wondered what I could do next,” he said, noting that his experience includes the development of dental products and selling pharmaceuticals. “What I wanted to do is give back to other cancer patients and be a patient advocate.”
Because of his CLL, Levinsky’s immune system will always be “next to zero,” he said. Having a source of income that minimizes his chance of getting sick is crucial.
During his treatment, he learned that dogs do not transmit germs the same way humans do, and most diseases do not cross species, making dogs safer companions for those with diminished immune systems than people.
“If someone needs to hire a dog walker (because they work long hours or are recuperating from an accident or a surgery) why not hire a cancer patient?” he joked.
Clients can select the frequency they’d like their dogs walked — from a one-time 30-minute walk to scheduled weekly walks and vacation services — and the payment goes to the walkers for their bills and medical expenses.
Client and attorney Marissa Lyftogt of San Diego said, in the midst of praise over Levinsky’s professional conduct, “I’d be (having someone walk my dog) anyway, but the fact that Paws for Cause is doing more and giving someone a job they might not be able to have, makes me feel so good.”
She said she learned about Paws for a Cause through a flier, and was already looking into hiring a dog walker, but was intrigued by Levinsky’s business model.
“It’s a unique concept I haven’t seen before, and there are a lot of dog walkers around. The fact that he wants to do this to help others is really admirable,” she said, and has even offered to pay more than what Levinsky charges.
Levinsky walks Lyftogt’s dog, Jake, three times a week, but if her schedule gets busy, she knows she can call him for an additional, impromptu visit.
“He’s been absolutely excellent,” she said. “I hope he can get the support needed to really get this going.”
Paws for a cause
Helping fellow cancer patients with furry friends
“I take after my father, he was always helping other people,” said Michael Levinsky, a cancer patient who has started a new dog walking service that aims to employ other cancer patients and help them through their medical condition.
Though “Paws for a Cause” is a new start-up, business is already booming.
Mike Levinsky getting some love from a client (Photo by Will Bowen)
“Currently, I have a lot of work for myself and am hoping to soon hire [others] and expand my operations, especially in the Downtown area where a lot of people have dogs,” said Levinsky from his cell phone, as two large black labs pulled him along the nature trail running through Sa
an Clemente Canyon.
“I walk dogs from La Jolla to the Downtown area,” he said. “Someday I hope to have a storefront business Downtown, where people can visit for all their dog related needs.
“The dog business is just booming Downtown. It seems like everyone in an apartment, condo, or loft has a dog these days.”
Levinsky has a form of chronic non-Hodgkin’s leukemia called CLL. He has been battling his disease since 2009 when he was diagnosed as being at Stage Four severity. With the help of a new miracle drug called Imbruvica, which he waited years for as it went through the FDA approval process, he has outlived the doctor’s original prognosis.
Levinsky said his journey to learn about his disease involved 15-hour days in a bio-med library, reading everything he could get his hands on and visiting with top specialists in the field.
“I have learned a great deal and I think that I can help other cancer patients,” he said. “It’s very confusing when you have a serious disease like cancer and are looking for direction. I hope to provide that to fellow patients and also inform the public about what cancer patients are going through as a patient advocate.”
Levinsky first discovered that something was wrong when he came back from a trip to Indiana with a sinus infection that would not go away. After extensive testing it was discovered that he had cancer.
“No one else in my family has anything like this,” he said. “I think that I just have always had a weak immune system and was just not able to fight off the disease like a normal person would have been able to.”
Levinsky was born and raised in Indianapolis where his father was a businessman and his mother a homemaker. After earning a degree in biology and chemistry at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, he came out to San Diego for the good weather.
He worked on the team that helped remodel Belm
mont Park and was later employed as a salesman for the pharmaceutical industry.
“Now I am a full time dog walker and I love it,” Levinsky said. “I first got the idea for a dog walking service while going through therapy with Dr. Kipps at the Moores Cancer Center [in La Jolla]. I thought … people are walking germ factories but dogs don’t communicate disease to humans; and, it has been shown that dogs are very helpful for cheering up the infirm and the elderly. Beside that, my friends used to take me out for a walk when I was really weak to get me some exercise, so … why not walk dogs? They need exercise and so do cancer patients.”
Levinsky knows that cancer treatment costs so much money that at least 20 percent of cancer patients are approaching homelessness. Cancer patients need to make some money, get some exercise, and spend more time in positive emotional circumstances — like playing with friendly dogs.
Anastasia McColl, who lives in La Jolla Shores, hired Levinsky to walk her yellow lab puppy “Rambo” on a regular basis after reading about him in the local paper.
Levinsky plans to expand his business (Photo by Will Bowen)
“Michael does all the things that our dog trainer recommends that we do in training Rambo,” McColl said. “He is very patient. I recommend him wholeheartedly.”
Jeanie Harris hired Levinsky to walk her adult black lab twice a week.
“I am a small person and my black lab is huge,” Harris said. “I needed help in walking her. Michael has been just fabulous. He is reliable, always shows up, and is very relaxed around my dog. He is just a delight.”
Levinsky knows he has been confronted with a very powerful life challenge, but he is hoping to turn it into something positive that will help other people.
Will Bowen writes about arts and culture. You can reach him email@example.com.
- Marissa L.
- San Diego, Ca.
Michael has been taking care of our three dogs for quite a few years now….even while we are away on vacations or family emergencies. His love for animals and the care he takes is very, very special.
Jack Hochman, retired county public defender
Paws In The City is a great service. I have a couple “difficult” dogs and he knows just how to handle them,…and they seem quite a bit healthier now too that they have been in his care. I would highly recommend the service.
Michael really knows how to take care of our pets. Every time they come home they are so happy and you can tell that they’ve had a good workout because they’re not so rambunctious any more, and I just love his homemade organic dog treats… oh, and Frisco and Cheny love them too!