Donor Spotlight- Allen Iskiwitz: Confessions of a Philanthropic Animal Lover

by JCPConnect-

Philanthropists who hold Donor Advised Funds through Jewish Foundation of Memphis have access to a unique set of giving tools, enabling them to give to causes that are meaningful to them, hassle-free, and backed by a team of financial, legal, and philanthropic professional volunteers.

JFOM takes care of administrative tasks like processing grants, sending grant checks and award letters, and preparing quarterly statements about fund activity; consults with you and your family, helping to craft a giving plan, find information on a specific organization, or guide you to organizations that match your charitable interests; and hosts regular educational events focusing on topics of interest to philanthropists. 

In this series, we take a look at the many ways people use their Donor Advised Funds to achieve their philanthropic goals and support the causes they care about. 

By Greg Heffelfinger

Memphis may make the top of the list in some unflattering categories but as far as community goes, the city is experiencing a rebirth. In the face of unsure economic times and divisive events, the citizens of the city find a way to contribute to the well-being of the city we all love.

One of those citizens is Allen Iskitwitz. He has given generously of both time and resources to the local Jewish community in the form of J-Fit at the MJCC and through his work with animal rescue and helping stray dogs find homes.

It’s not always great to inject yourself into the story but I’ve been walking Allen’s dogs and helping them find homes for several years. He is a truly compassionate individual and wanted to speak about his favorite subject, so we sat for about half an hour and talked about everything from animal rescue to spay and neuter laws, and all things dogs.


Greg Heffelfinger: Allen, how did you get started rescuing dogs?

Allen Iskiwitz: I just have a real affinity for animals and wanted to help them. (Sounds of their cockatoo squawking in the background.)


Over the years, you’ve just been helping dogs find homes? Do people call you or do you find them on the street?

Mostly off the street and I’ve found homes for some and some I’ve kept.


I made a joke referring to your house as a “dog ranch” because there are a plethora of animals here. From dogs and cats to birds, there seems to be all kinds of animals here. Do you prefer dogs?

Well, the bird is my wife’s project. We have a cockatoo, two cats that just came along from being outside but my preference is primarily dogs.


Tell me about the two dogs at Memphis Jewish Home and Rehab, which you funded through your Donor Advised Fund with Jewish Foundation of Memphis.

My wife and I are sponsoring two dogs at the Jewish Home, Stormy and Captain. (Speedy, how was part of the original pair with Captain, died last year.)


I was told you are quite the philanthropist. Tell me about J-FIT at the MJCC.

It’s just another area I’m interested in and Kay and I wanted to help.


I know you have a home gym and work out and have a cabinet full of health food.

I just think that kids should be healthy and exercise but I don’t use my home gym as much as I should.[chuckling]


I was going to talk to you about your philanthropic donations which include donations for health and just being a good member of the Jewish Community. Do you have any other, pardon the pun, pet causes that you’d like to talk about?

My main focus is helping animals. I have other small little things.I donate to the Humane Society and the JCC and my wife and I sponsor two therapy dogs at the Jewish Home.


How many dogs have you helped rescue throughout the years?

About twenty-five dogs, total.


Does it pull your heartstrings? Do you want to keep every one of them?

Well, you want to make sure they have a good home. Sometimes you think they aren’t for our house and then you end up keeping them.


How do you feel about the Wings of Rescue program to help save dogs and take them to good homes?

I’m very close with the founder and it’s a nice thing. There is another one coming on the 28th of March but the big one was on Valentine’s Day. They took about four hundred and thirty dogs.

(Editor’s note- Wings of Rescue is a donation-based charity, flying large numbers of at risk healthy pets long distances from high intake shelters to safety at no-kill shelters throughout the United States and Canada. Founded in 2009, Wings of Rescue have a squadron of volunteer pilots flying the rescue missions on their own planes, as well as a fleet of chartered cargo planes.)


Where do you find the dogs you help? Do you see them wandering the streets in different neighborhoods or is it mostly by your workplace?

They seem to find me. Memphis has stray dogs everywhere.


Does it strike you as weird that Memphis has such a stray dog problem but the rest of the country is asking for animals.

There are many cities that have the same problems we do but up north the spay/neuter laws are more strictly enforced so you don’t have the same problems we have. Memphis doesn’t have a very strictly enforced spay/neuter program.


Do you think that’s because of a lack of donations or a lack of philanthropy?

I think it’s a political problem. They don’t want to make lower income families pay the cost of spaying or neutering their pets, and there is a mentality of if they spay or neuter their pets it won’t be a good animal and it affects its psyche and it won’t be a good animal, when in fact it’s just the opposite.

Something Kay and I have done is sponsor Fido Fixers, which goes into areas where people don’t have the transportation or the money to pay a vet two or three hundred dollars and for a minimal fee makes sure that [dogs] get shots and a chip.


When you were growing up did you have animals?

I had a dog named Spotty.


When you had the kids in the house did you have as many animals?

We always had a couple of dogs,not to this extent,  but the main focus was always on the kids.


The breakdown at “the dog ranch” seems to be between Duchess, a beautiful mixed-breed dog that is your alpha and then a few dogs that gravitate towards you and a few for your wife. Your latest rescue was a Great Dane/ Husky/Malamute/Memphis Street Dog who is the size of a small horse. Where did you find him?

I found Caeser on the ramp leading to the interstate by the Firestone in North Memphis. He was tied to a fence with electrical cable but my latest rescue was a dachshund named Benny. He was just wandering around and had no collar or chip and other than long hair and bad teeth he was in good health.


Do you try to rescue every dog or just the ones that look sick or do you ever call Animal Control?

By no means do I try to engage every dog but if you get out of the car and they will come to you, I will take it and give it to a group I know or find it a home but I never, ever call Animal Control. I did it once and I would never do it again.


Do you consider that a death sentence to call Animal Services?

It’s much better now than it used to be but if there is another option that is better. I know Alexis Pugh very well and she has done a great job on cutting down on the euthanasia rates and is doing much better.


What I was surprised to hear about was that there is a sort of rescue pipeline of dogs going north from the South. My cousin in Georgia has heard of this and there are dogs coming all the way from as far south as it gets, up through Memphis and then go on to other cities.

I’ve done five dogs through Good Dog Rescue, a husband and wife team that, if you have a dog that is totally vetted and has a personality type that lends itself to being adopted, will pick it up, put the picture on their website and meet prospective adopters and interview them and make sure the prospective adopter has a good home and references. The adopter will pay a fee to the service and every Thursday a big van comes through, a converted tractor trailer which holds sixty dogs. It’s a land version of Wings of Rescue. There is a hefty fee to get these dogs vetted and they will end up as far north as Maine and all throughout the Northeast.


So in about fifteen years, you’ve handled about twenty-five dogs. Do you find as many strays as you used to? Dogs or cats?

I do not see as many strays as I used too but if you drive around for any period of time you’ll find strays. I do think it’s improving but we are a long way from having the ordinances that will fight this. In other cities, you have to spay/neuter unless you are a breeder. In Memphis, the only time you have to spay/neuter is if the dog is out on the street and the owner is found then the owner is cited. The city ordinance is fairly weak. They aren’t focused on having animals spayed or neutered, it’s a very political thing.


Do you feel that people such as yourself and you are making a dent in the stray animal problem in Memphis?

Efforts are made to spay/neuter. You have the FIdo FIxers from the Humane Society. I think more people are conscious of the problem and it’s a dent but it’s a small dent in proportion to the population of Memphis and how many people have dogs.


You hear a lot of young couples say,”My animal is like my child, it’s my baby.” Does that annoy you?” [laughing]

I think anyone can relate to an animal as a member of the family and it makes you feel good to have dogs and even cats running around.


How do you feel about the so called “dangerous breeds?” Pit bulls, dobermans, German shepherds, etc.

Any dog will bite. I know that some pits are bred to fight but I know some pits and they are the sweetest dogs I know. Any dogs from a chihuahua to a mastiff will bite if provoked. I don’t have any special skills. I’m not a dog whisperer. Just because a dog is wagging its tail doesn’t mean you can approach it. There are many small non-verbal cues that only professionals know. However, if you call the Memphis Animal Shelter, you don’t know how that is going to turn out in the end. Like I said, there are many groups out there but I take each animal on a case-by-case basis.


Are there any words you’d like to leave us with?

Spay and neuter your pets, that’s the main thing.


Author’s note: The Iskiwitzes are very modest about the help they do in the community. They don’t look for any special thanks or praise. They don’t try to make a big deal out of what they do. They just quietly help out the Memphis area. I think that is the essence of a charitable heart. Be sure to look up any of the groups mentioned if you feel the need to donate. Wings of Rescue, Good Dog Rescue, Fido Fixers, there are plenty of groups of hard-working animal lovers trying to make the streets of Memphis safer and the pet community safe and cared for, as well.

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