By Kelsie Donaldson on October 10, 2022

Alan Kalter and Dr. Chris Lezotte brought home their first bullmastiff in 1982, and although he was not necessarily in line for best in show, the friendly dog sparked a newfound passion for Kalter and Lezotte.

“We started attending dog shows to meet other bullmastiff owners and to become more educated about the breed. As fairly competitive people, we were intrigued by the idea of showing and breeding,” the pair says.

After their first bullmastiff passed away at a young age, Kalter and Lezotte purchased their first show dog from a New York breeder and acquired their foundation bitch from a breeder in Florida. From the very beginning, the goal of their breeding program was to consistently produce dogs that were sound in body and temperament.

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Alan Kalter and Dr. Chris Lezotte receiving the 2016 AKC Breeder of the Year award for their HappyLegs Bullmastiffs at the AKC National Championship

As the pair continued to learn about breeding and small animal reproduction, they bred almost 200 titleholders, and in 2016, the pair was recognized as Breeder of the Year by the American Kennel Club. Among other things, Kalter and Lezotte’s journey showed them that the number of veterinarians skilled in small animal theriogenology, or reproductive medicine, is dwindling. With an interest in preserving and expanding upon the existing knowledge base of small animal breeding, Kalter and Lezotte began conversations with the College of Veterinary Medicine at MSU.

With the goal of giving all small animal veterinary students the opportunity to learn more about reproduction, Kalter and Lezotte funded two endowed professorships at MSU: one in theriogenology and one in genomics.

“Since whatever [DVM students] choose to focus on for their career in small animal medicine starts with reproduction and genomics, we believe having professors with expertise in those two subjects will help better prepare them for everything they encounter,” say Kalter and Lezotte. “We believe teaching small animal reproduction at MSU will significantly benefit owners, the practice, and, most importantly, the dogs.”

Dr. Robert Fowkes, chairperson for the College’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, agrees that these professorships will positively impact multiple disciplines within small animal science. “The immense generosity of our donors in setting up the Kalter-Lezotte Endowed Professorships enables us to develop a new small animal theriogenology clinical service in the Veterinary Medical Center, as well as an accompanying research program to support purebred dog health,” says Fowkes. “But the benefits of this endowment reach far beyond this; there are many synergies to be found between theriogenology and other clinical disciplines–including internal medicine, primary care, and soft tissue surgery–that will result in advancements to patient care for many animals. We are incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful support at MSU from Alan and Chris.”

In addition to the professorships, Kalter and Lezotte established the HappyLegs Fund at the Hospital, which provides financial help for owners with dogs that require life-saving care. The name comes from that first bullmastiff, who would stomp his feet and dance when he wanted to play. (The fund’s name also conveys Kalter and Lezotte’s goal of breeding dogs with soundness and strong leg movement.)

“We are so grateful that Alan and Chris chose to establish their fund and build their vision for a world-class theriogenology program here at MSU,” says Birgit Puschner, dean of the College. “Their generosity will have an impact on hospital clients, students, veterinarians, breeders, and dogs.”

The admiration is mutual, as Kalter and Lezotte have gotten to know the dean throughout the past few years.

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Alan Kalter and Dr. Chris Lezotte with Dean Puschner at the Celebration of Generosity

“We believe the College of Veterinary Medicine at MSU has never been in better hands,” say Kalter and Lezotte. “Dean Puschner inspires us with every action and interaction. We have seen and felt her impact with every experience we have had.” Kalter and Lezotte say their appreciation extends to MSU as a whole. “There are many good institutions worthy of an investment. Heck, we live in Ann Arbor. But when thinking of small animals and our experience with our own dogs–both at the clinic and with our own veterinarian who is a graduate of MSU–we believe there is no better small animal teaching and research school anywhere. With our goal of ensuring a better tomorrow for dogs, there is no better place to invest than MSU.”

In recognition of the impact that Kalter and Lezotte’s gifts will have on the College, the pair was awarded the College’s Philanthropist of the Year Award at the 2022 Celebration of Generosity. “Receiving this award was an honor,” say the pair. “It wasn’t sought. It wasn’t expected. But it is very much appreciated.”

HappyLegs and Hot Wheels

In addition to their passion for breeding, both Kalter and Lezotte are car enthusiasts. Kalter has a collection of classic and performance cars that he works on, drives, and shows. Lezotte takes a more scholarly approach; at the age of 66, she received her PhD in 2015. Her research focuses on the relationship between women and cars.

The HappyLegs Fund provides financial help to clients with dogs in need of life-saving care. Join Alan Kalter and Chris Lezotte—support clients of the MSU Veterinary Medical Center.