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 is seeking both walkers in cancer treatment or recovery, and clients.

■ Cost: A 30-minute walk is $15. An hour-long walk is $25.

■ Contact: (858) 583-5389

■ Website: