September 16, 2020

Sharon Fletcher, Director of Marketing & Communications

Pleasanton, CA, Sept. 16, 2020—Maddie's Fund®, a national family foundation established by Dave and Cheryl Duffield to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals, has presented the 2020 Avanzino Leadership Award to Dr. Michael J. Blackwell for his outstanding leadership and purposeful dedication to the human-animal bond.

The award is named after Rich Avanzino, the father of the no-kill movement and Maddie’s Fund President from 1999-2015. It recognizes significant achievement and courage to look beyond the status quo and make bold decisions to improve the lives of pets and their people. The award is presented with a $25,000 grant to be designated by the recipient.

"What Dr. Blackwell has accomplished thus far in his lifetime, and continues to pursue, is nothing short of impressive,” said Amy Zeifang of the Maddie’s Fund Executive Leadership Team. "He has continuously followed his passion to do what’s right, focusing on the fact that people and pets belong together. His mission to improve access to veterinary care, especially for those with limited means, is meaningful for families throughout our country.”

Over the past three years, Maddie’s Fund has awarded a total of $3.3 million to Dr. Blackwell and his team at the Program for Pet Health Equity, College of Social Work, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He conducted foundational research on barriers to access to veterinary care and best practices among those who seek to improve access to veterinary care. Based on the incredible findings from this research, he then launched into research and development of a new healthcare system called AlignCare.

Mary Ippoliti-Smith, Executive Leadership Team, Maddie’s Fund, said, "Dr. Blackwell has inspired all of us through his focus on making life better for pets and people. He epitomizes the very same qualities as Rich Avanzino, especially that of being a trailblazer.”

Like his father, Dr. Blackwell earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Tuskegee University. He also earned a Master of Public Health degree from Loma Linda University. Currently serving as the Director of the Program for Pet Health Equity, College of Social Work, at the University of Tennessee, he chairs the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition. Dr. Blackwell’s career accomplishments are expansive. He has served as the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at University of Tennessee, Chief of Staff, Office of the Surgeon General of the U.S., Deputy Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, Food and Drug Administration, and held the Chief Veterinary Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service and The Humane Society of the United States. He achieved the rank of Assistant Surgeon General (Rear Admiral) of U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps during 23 years on active duty.

"A life filled with service in veterinary medicine coupled with public health is what exemplifies Dr. Blackwell,” said Dr. Laurie Peek, Executive Leadership Team, Maddie’s Fund. "The intersection of these two disciplines led him to AlignCare, the next big step in revolutionizing the status and well-being of companion animals by helping to keep pets in their homes. His groundbreaking work truly honors the human-animal bond and the love that pets and people have for one another.”

About Maddie's Fund

Maddie's Fund® is a family foundation established in 1994 by Dave and Cheryl Duffield and is the fulfillment of a promise to their inspirational dog, Maddie. She provided them much joy from 1987 – 1997 and continues to inspire them today.

The Foundation has awarded over $275.7 million in grants toward increased community lifesaving, pioneering shelter medicine education and establishing foster care as a standard across the U.S.

Maddie's Fund proudly offers the industry a national voice, important funding opportunities for bold ideas, learning resources and access to collaborate and share innovative solutions. The Foundation invests its resources in a commitment to keeping pets and people together, creating a safety net of care for animals in need and operating within a culture of inclusiveness and humility. #ThanksToMaddie.