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.
“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 San 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 Belmont 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.
“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.
“Very soon, hopefully this month, I will be giving other cancer patients a job with my dog walking service and guiding them in any way that they may need,” Levinsky said. “I am resolved. I am not going to let cancer beat me.”
If you have a dog that needs walking and would like to support Levinsky’s venture, visit his website at pawsinthecity.info or call him at 858-583-5389.
—Will Bowen writes about arts and culture. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.