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All For AnimalsMany people are passionate about their animals. Karen Lee Stevens (’87, marketing) is one of those people and she’s taken it a step further by combining her love for animals with a love for entrepreneurship.

Stevens is the founder and president of All for Animals, an organization based in Santa Barbara, Calif., that is dedicated to training animals and educating the public – mostly children – about animals through humane education and literacy programs.

Karen Lee with Arf Therapy DogStevens, a native of Santa Barbara, came from a family of entrepreneurs and had the desire to be her own boss at a young age. “As a child, I had yard sales as well as a babysitting service,” she recalled. “Since both my parents worked for themselves, they encouraged those skills in me.”

After attending Santa Barbara City College, Stevens transferred to San Diego State to begin her junior year. “SDSU was my first choice of colleges to attend,” she said. “I was interested in the school’s excellent Business Administration program and I enrolled with an emphasis in marketing.”

After finishing her degree at SDSU, Stevens moved back to Santa Barbara and went to work for Excel Mineral Company who was the creator and marketer of Jonny Cat litter. “It was a dream job for me because I was working for the director of marketing and traveling around the country representing the company at cat shows,” she said.

It was during her tenure at her “dream job” in 1994 that she had an encounter that would change her life: “While I was taking a break and walking around the business park, I found a stray cat that had apparently been hanging around for months. One rainy day, I decided to take him home ‘just for the weekend’ until I could find his family. Two days turned into two weeks and…well…’Cassidy’ became my beloved feline friend.”

It was also in 1994 that Excel Mineral Company was sold to a much larger company, First Brands, who also marketed Simoniz, Glad and STP products at the time. Stevens realized that there would be changes in her life, but it was Cassidy that helped her to ease into her transition as an entrepreneur. “It’s hard to describe, but there was something in his big beautiful blue eyes that caused me to start looking at my life in a different way and helped me make the leap from corporate America to entrepreneur.”

In 1997, Stevens founded All for Animals primarily as an animal rights organization with the goal of teaching the public how to make ethical decisions that were safe for both animals and the environment.

"I was interested in the school’s excellent Business Administration program and I enrolled with an emphasis in marketing." 

By the time Cassidy passed away in 2000, the organization took on new roles and it grew in scope. In 2002, All for Animals officially became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and attracted grants and private donations to help it carry on its mission.

Today, All for Animals has expanded its outreach efforts and offers several training programs. One is the organizations’ therapy dog training classes which has trained more than 150 dogs of all breeds, sizes and ages to be therapy dogs. They, along with their human companions, volunteer in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and libraries where they interact with patients, residents and students who are craving some friendly canine companionship.

In 2013, Stevens – now a certified humane educator and children’s book author - created Animals + Reading = Fun! (ARF!) to allow local children between kindergarten and 6th grade the opportunity to read to specially trained therapy dogs. “A child, especially one who is having trouble reading, may be reluctant to read aloud in front of a teacher or peers,” she observed. “However, when a child sits down to read to a dog friend, something magical happens. The dog’s tail begins to wag and the child smiles and relaxes. The child starts to look forward to the reading sessions because his or her dog friend listens calmly to every word without criticizing or judging.”

For today’s SDSU students considering starting their own company, Stevens offers this advice: “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. They will take you – and your business – to new heights.”