The Ever-Innovative Phil Raskin & His Legacy for Animals
by Alexis Fasseas | Nov 01, 2014
From creating advertising for some of the world’s most iconic brands to innovating in the philanthropic sector to forging a life dramatically divergent from his roots, Phil Raskin has created a legacy all his own—a legacy that places significant emphasis on aiding homeless pets.
Discovering the Arts
Raised in a suburb of Kansas City, Raskin never was exposed to the arts.
It was in college at Princeton University and his first job as a copywriter at Leo Burnett in Chicago that piqued his passion for creativity. “These early experiences opened my eyes, touched me and developed my love of theatre, music and art,” Raskin said. “Advertising uses your awareness of all aspects of culture in your work. Burnett was, for me, its own version of a liberal arts education.”
For 22 years, Raskin moved his way up the creative ranks, taking on such clients as Kellogg’s, Nintendo, Morgan Stanley, 7UP and the New York Stock Exchange; from copywriter to Group Creative Director to member of the Board of Directors. In 1999, he took on a new challenge, serving as Chief Marketing Officer for Morgan Stanley, the global financial giant in New York, working to unify the global brand.
It wasn’t until he was in his 40’s that Raskin had his ‘pet awakening.’ Quite literally in the many sleepless nights that accompany three new kittens, but also much more profound. “I sort of mark my life BP and AP—Before Pets and After Pets. They’ve been transformative, providing a new perspective on my life,” Raskin said. “They give me a real sense of purpose, requiring an emotional commitment I had never experienced.”
Raskin had considered himself a dog lover. But his constant business travel and long hours at the office made a dog impossible. So when a secretary at Burnett asked him if he’d be interested in adopting some kittens from her cat’s litter, an opportunity presented itself.
When he went to meet the new kittens, he immediately gravitated to Zach. After being encouraged to take two cats, he selected Maddie. Charlie ran after them on the way out the door and Raskin could not leave him behind.
Raskin remembers, “Here I was, fairly late in life, having traveled the world and already experienced so much and something as simple as a little kitty so quickly changes your whole point of view.”
He eloquently describes the sentiment that cat lovers share: “It’s hard for non-cat people to understand. Cats love the same, they just don’t show it like dogs. Dogs are so happy to see you. Cats don’t do that. They’re completely nonchalant; they find their own time and way to be affectionate.”
Raskin is reflective on the impact his three little balls of fluff have had on him. “In some ways, the greatest emotional lessons of my life have been experienced through my pets. I’m not a patient person; they taught me patience. I’m not, by nature, accepting; they taught me acceptance. I wasn’t comfortable with expressing love; they taught me love,” he said. “Everyday, I cherish their role in my life and feel like I to need to spend whatever gain I’ve received on helping animals in return.
Embracing the Cause of Animal Welfare
Though he was a late arrival to the pet parent party, Raskin has not only fully embraced pets into every aspect of his life, but their welfare has become one of his primary charitable activities. He heard about PAWS Chicago during Hurricane Katrina and wanted to help. He toured the 26th Street Lurie Clinic and Medical Center. “No Kill really struck a chord with me,” Raskin said. “I couldn’t conceive that animals would be put down simply for not having a home.”
He wanted to play a larger role in PAWS Chicago and joined the Capital Campaign Committee for the Lincoln Park Adoption Center. He became a founding donor, funding the Raskin Treatment Center. “I became a big advocate of PAWS Chicago,” he said. “There are many people doing many great things, but few I’ve ever met as dynamic and impressive as PAWS Founder Paula Fasseas.”
Earlier this year, Raskin approached PAWS Chicago with the desire to make a lasting impact on homeless animals. After several conversations with Fasseas, he decided that he wanted to endow a program that would support the medical treatment of animals into perpetuity. His philanthropic priority is impacting lives.
“Phil is the first PAWS supporter who came to us wanting to establish a specific endowment to help homeless animals,” said PAWS Chicago Founder Paula Fasseas. “Through Phil’s generosity, we will not only be able to cover the costs of treating puppies and kittens in need of extraordinary medical care beyond what we can provide in our Medical Center for the next few years, but he is establishing the Raskin Specialized Medical Endowment for Puppies and Kittens that will fund this care into perpetuity. Support like this will enable us to continue to grow our programs with certainty that we can cover our operational costs each year.”
In addition to the Raskin Endowment for PAWS Chicago, Phil also adopted two PAWS Chicago pets in 2014 to add to his pack. (Read about Henry and George on page 27.) “It breaks my heart that beautiful cats like Henry would have been euthanized but for the fact that he was rescued by PAWS,” Raskin said. “My charitable support is about helping these innocent creatures.”
“We’re around for such a short time,” said Raskin. “We spend a good chunk of our life acquiring. Then, if you’re lucky, you have the chance to give back and do something meaningful. I am blessed. I take great delight that, after years of work, I can now do some good.”
And what a difference Phil has made. Not only for Zach, Charlie, Maddie, Sebastian, Miles, Ginny, Henry and George—the pets he has taken in over the years—but for the countless animals and people who have benefited from his generosity.
Meet the Raskin Pack
Since his original three kitties—Zach, Charlie and Maddie—Phil Raskin has saved many other pets in need. It started with Sebastian, who was rescued from a shelter he volunteered at 12 years ago. “I cleaned out Sebastian’s cage, put him on my shoulder and he fell asleep. That clinched it; he was mine,” Raskin recalls.
Then he saved Miles, a bed bug detection dog who was living in a cage without affection as the pest control company thought human contact would ruin his training. Miles in turn rescued Ginny who he found in a grate at the Drake Hotel one winter night. She was wet, bleeding and so malnourished that she couldn’t even stand up the first few days.
After losing Maddie in early 2014, Raskin found himself “sitting, brooding, inconsolable, depressed and not knowing what to do. Even though I had four other wonderful animals, I felt alone. I saw Henry on TV with Paula on the “TODAY” show and I acted instinctively. Henry the cat now rules the Raskin roost.
And then, only a month later, Raskin found George, a terrier mix. “I happened to be at PAWS with a friend who was adopting a dog. I saw George running around the Treatment Center. And that made seven!”
“I need an intervention,” Raskin laughs. “I’ve told my friends that they are not permitted to let me go to PAWS any more for fear that I’ll bring them all home. I have a vision of becoming a recluse surrounded by 400 animals.”
Were that to happen, they would be 400 lucky pets!
Coping with Maddie’s Loss
Funding Medical Research in Her Memory
In early 2014, Raskin’s beloved Maddie passed away at age 15 from FIP—Feline Infectious Peritonitis—a terrible disease that typically kills kittens who do not yet have developed immune systems. Phil was stunned to learn that there is no cure and it was an immediate death sentence. Nothing could be done. She was diagnosed on a Friday and by Tuesday she had passed.
“I was desolate that I couldn’t help her. I went into a long period of mourning. I honestly didn’t know if it was worth having pets because the pain of loss was so enormous,” he recalls. But he has come to accept the loss and reflect instead on her life.
“The first thing is always to remember how much they brought to your life, to celebrate that and thank God that you had them, however briefly,” Raskin said when recounting his path to healing. “The second thing is that it takes time. She’s never far from my mind. I miss her like hell. But you go on. The scar heals.”
In Maddie’s memory, Phil has funded six years of FIP research at UC Davis in California, the leader in work on this feline disease. “Current thinking is there will never be a cure, but they can and will find anti-viral drugs that will keep it under control, like AIDS in humans. In the pecking order of research, most charitable giving supports humans and dogs. Cats are a distant third, so the folks at UC Davis were very receptive to my funding of research into this dreadful disease.”