There are many motivations behind philanthropy, some sincere and altruistic, others downright selfish, most falling somewhere in between. But after covering this sector for some time now (and being admittedly cynical at times), one of my favorites has to be a simple love of animals.
Maybe it’s because such a seemingly quaint, relatable sentiment can create serious impact, in terms of reducing suffering and improving human and animal lives alike.
Take, for example, a recent donation from Gary Carlson, a dermatologist based outside of Los Angeles, who, when deciding what to support, asked himself what mattered to him most. As he said in the gift’s announcement, “High on the list was the joy that our pets so often give us—a special comfort and support that allows us to embrace life more fully. I wanted to do something that would enrich that experience and help us better understand and care for our ‘best friends.’”
Carlson has several dogs with his girlfriend, including a Maltese named Sugar that comes to Carlson’s office every day.
So that’s very sweet and all, but it also translates to $50 million for Oregon State University, which will potentially more than double the size of the school’s renowned small animal teaching hospital, adding two wings, new oncology equipment, and will essentially lock down its future as a top veterinary facility.
It’s also the largest gift OSU has received in its 150-year history.
Of course, it is an alumni gift, but OSU already had a solid reputation, treating mostly dogs and cats coming from all over Oregon, California and Washington. And the number of furry patients had been steadily creeping up since it opened in 2006. The key word surrounding the donation was “game-changing.”
Carlson is not really a known entity when it comes to philanthropy. He co-owns a dermatology practice, but said he made his money through “lucky” investments in Apple and real estate in California. He told the Oregonian that he had been saving up to make one big donation to a cause he really cared about. Aside from the alumni connection and the love of animals, he’s also a believer in supporting public schools.
Other than that, the gift sort of came out of nowhere—although, as is common, the donation was in the works for at least a year. But it's far from the first time a donor, living or deceased, has been driven by a love of animals to support colleges of veterinary medicine. In 2016, canine-loving media magnate Frank Stanton’s foundation committed a $39 million gift to Ohio State’s veterinary medicine college. A foundation in the name of a late newspaper publisher has given some $47 million to North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. There are quite a few other examples.
Of course, it’s tempting to dismiss such gifts as sentimental, but animal welfare donations have also become a favorite of the effective altruism crowd, which values the demonstrable positive outcomes. We've explored this interesting balance between logic and emotion in the giving of the late Sam Simon. However you look at this gift to OSU, the dogs and cats of the Northwest are better off for it.