Here’s a Couple That’s Passionate About Saving Shelter Animals

In dog and cat shelters across the country, there’s been a big push to achieve “no-kill” status, yet an estimated 4 million homeless animals are still put down every year. The no-kill movement used to be a radical one back when San Francisco became the first U.S. city to guarantee homes for adoptable pets over 20 years ago. It’s become mainstream these days, and we've written before about the important national role played here by Maddie's Fund, the foundation started by tech winner David Duffied.

Related: A Single Four-Legged Focus: The Tech Philanthropist Giving Millions for Animals

But locally focused funders are also paying attention. One of them, working in the New York area, is the Levitt Family Charitable Foundation, which puts a high funding priority on animal welfare. The foundation recently established the Patricia Levitt Medical Fund and awarded a $2.5 million grant to help the Best Friends Animal Society give the most at-risk shelter animals the best chance at life.

This is a huge grant for the Levitt Family Charitable Foundation, and one that really makes a bold statement. This is a funder that at the end of a recent year claimed just $7,592 in assets and $622,360 in total giving. Yet Michael and Patricia Levitt’s support for this particular nonprofit is anything but surprising. The couple has been supporting Best Friends in one way or another since 1998.

“We’ve always given our support to where it would make the biggest impact. Best Friends Animal Society has a proven track record of success in making a huge difference for homeless pets across the country,” Patricia Levitt said in a press release. “As New York City approaches no kill, more shelter pets are coming in with medical issues. This fund is designed to give these dogs and cats the second chance they deserve.”

Best Friends has three local programs in New York City, Los Angeles, and Utah. It also has national initiatives focused on cats, pit bull terriers, and puppy mills. Since 1984, this group has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters from 17 million to four million nationwide.

By creating a separate fund for this type of grantmaking, we’re curious to see whether the Levitt Family Charitable Foundation will dedicate more of its other funding to different types of causes. Aside from animal welfare, the funder has really only been interested in education otherwise. It has been awarding scholarships for college tuition to low-income students over the years, and it’s shown particular interest in New York City. Unfortunately, neither the family foundation nor the new medical fund have their own websites or any clear way for grantseekers to get in touch or apply for funding.

Michael Levitt is the founder and CEO of Michaels Organization, which provides residential real estate and affordable, mixed-income, military, and student housing. Levitt has been in the housing business for over 40 years, yet the couple’s grantmaking hasn’t really touched on the issues of homelessness and affordable housing. Instead, Levitt was the first affordable housing developer to develop a resident scholarship program that has given out over $5.2 million in grants to benefit over 2,200 students nationwide. You can learn more about the Michaels Organization here.

Due to reforms in New York City shelter laws, euthanasia rates have already started declining. Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that those rates dropped by 36 percent for dogs and 25 percent for cats in 2015. Meanwhile adoptions increased by 17 percent.

There aren’t a lot of funders with millions of dollars to spare for shelter animals. From what we can tell, Michael’s wife, Patricia, seems to be the driving force behind the foundation’s animal welfare support. And with the creation of this new Levitt fund in her name, this certainly isn’t the last big shelter gift we expect to see in New York City.