Love for animals becomes Jared’s legacy

Jared’s Dog Park will be built on about a one-and-a-half-acre site in the town-owned Roosevelt Forest, where the ranger’s station had been located. — Brad Durrell photo

Karen Levine remembers how much her son Jared cared for animals, even at a young age.

He once found an injured seagull on the beach, gently put it in a pillowcase, and had his parents help him bring it to a veterinarian.

“Jared was always rescuing cats and dogs,” Levine said. “I was running out of friends to give them to.”

That’s not to mention the wounded birds, lizards and snakes.

To honor their son’s memory and his love of animals, Robert and Karen Levine have donated funds to help build Stratford’s new dog park at Roosevelt Forest. The Town Council and two other boards subsequently voted to name the facility, Jared’s Dog Park.

Jared A. Levine, a 1998 Bunnell High graduate, died two years ago at age 36. He’d lived in Stratford since age 6 and was well known around town for his volunteerism. He became an emergency medical technician while in high school and received the town’s Florence Silvestri Award for Bravery.

“He lived his life like he knew he didn’t have a long time. He was fearless,” said Levine, recalling how their son would literally dance on rooftops.

“He had a great childhood with two sets of loving grandparents and many friends,” she said.

Jared’s love of nature started when growing up on the beach in Milford. “His front yard was the tide,” Levine said.

His family soon moved to northern Stratford, next to Roosevelt Forest, where he and his childhood friends would ride bicycles around the neighborhood and seek adventure in the woods. He was a Cub Scout, Explorer Scout and Stratford Police Activities League member.

He began volunteering at the Fairfield Audubon Society at age 9 and the Trumbull animal shelter as a teenager.

Jared liked to fish in the Housatonic River, often with his father and particularly at night.

One of Jared’s favorite activities was fishing, often with his father at the Housatonic River. — Levine family photo

He thought he might become a police officer or firefighter but instead pursued carpentry, spending four years as an apprentice to learn the trade. He then opened his own home improvement business in his mid-20s.

Everything changed when a drunk driver ran into his vehicle, two years before his death. He began a slow downward slide due to his physical injuries.

He could no longer work as a carpenter and had trouble even picking items up. “He was always in discomfort,” Robert Levine said. He eventually had trouble controlling the pain medication he was prescribed and died in his sleep.

“I know he’s at peace,” Levine said.

Hundreds of people turned out for his funeral, and his parents brought his two surviving dogs — Lakota and Yankee — to the service.

 

New causes

The Levines decided to use money from a drunk driving accident legal settlement — received after his death — to keep their son’s legacy going.

“We didn’t want it ourselves — it’s like blood money,” Robert said.

They donated money to buy a police dog for the Stratford Police and to fund an annual scholarship for financially-challenged Bunnell students pursuing veterinary science.

Paula Lockshier, Stratford Dog Park Action Committee president, said she was moved when she heard the Levines’ first offer to help pay for the dog park at a public meeting.

“I’m just in awe of their strength,” Lockshier said. “They experienced something so painful and respond by doing so many positive things. It speaks volumes about their character and their love for their son.”

Lochshier attended Bunnell with Jared but she was a few years younger. “I remember him walking the halls with his EMS Explorer uniform,” she said. “He was so giving and volunteered at so many organizations.”

Stratford’s first dog park could open late this fall at Roosevelt Forest. The old ranger station has been demolished, and the site surveyed and flagged,.

Next it will be cleared of smaller trees, graded, and a fence erected around the perimeter. The dog park will be 1.5 acres, with areas for small and big canines.

Karen and Robert Levine hope their late son’s legacy will continue through the town’s new dog park. The late Jared Levine was an animal lover and dog owner. — Brad Durrell photo

Jared would frequently walk in Roosevelt Forest, usually with a dog and also with his father. “Jared and I would walk for hours in there,” his father said.

Now when Robert Levine takes a walk in the woods and sees a hawk, he’s convinced Jared is watching. “I say ‘Thanks for visiting. We’ll all be together someday,’” he said.

Many friends visit his son’s grave, evidenced by the unusual items such as pinwheels they leave on his headstone, he said. His mother understands the reason for their loyalty. “He had the biggest heart you could imagine,” she said.

To make a tax deductible donation to the dog park, go to dogparkstratford.com (click on Donate) or mail a check made out to Stratford Dog Park Action Committee to 776 Robin Lane, Stratford, CT 06614. No town funds are being used. Businesses can help by donating goods or services.

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