Tony La Russa’s animal rescue programs plan expansion amid surge in need

After failing to find a single no-kill shelter in the California East Bay, professional baseball manager Tony La Russa and his wife Elaine launched the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) — a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Walnut Creek. (Photos courtesy of Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation)

On May 7, 1990, a stray tortoiseshell cat found herself in the middle of a televised baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees. After a panicked dash around the Oakland Coliseum field, the cat found her way to Tony La Russa, then-manager for the Oakland A’s. This proved to be a fated union. 

After a panicked run around the Oakland Coliseum field, Evie the cat was corralled into the Athletics’ clubhouse by A’s Manager Tony La Russa, who would later adopt the feline, kickstarting his Animal Rescue Foundation.

The cat was lovingly called “Evie” after Evie Haas, the wife of Oakland A’s owner Walter A. Haas Jr. Once the game was over, Tony and his wife Elaine set out to find a compassionate animal shelter for Evie. Much to the couple’s horror, however, they failed to find a single no-kill shelter in the California East Bay. If they surrendered Evie to one of these shelters, she likely faced euthanasia. 

This discovery was a rude awakening, one that spurred the La Russas into inspired action. Less than one year later, the couple co-founded Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), providing shelter for homeless cats and dogs that would otherwise be placed in overcrowded, high-kill shelters. 

Today, ARF is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Walnut Creek, California. ARF’s dual mission, “People Rescuing Animals … Animals Rescuing People®,” has inspired a host of programs that honor the mutually beneficial relationships between people and their pets. Pets and Vets, along with youth-focused programs like Camp ARF are two such examples. 

Of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has proved challenging for ARF. Revenue-generating programs like Camp ARF and their public spay and neuter service have been suspended. Meanwhile, there’s been a 21 percent surge in animals who need complex surgeries or lengthy medical treatments in the past year, according to ARF’s Development Director, Stephanie Chew. 

Proceeds from ARF’s 30th annual Stars to the Rescue concert will benefit foundation programs and services such as Pets and Vets, animal care facilities, all-weather training fields and a veterans-only veterinary clinic.

The onset of the pandemic hasn’t been all bad, however. Since switching to a virtual adoption process, the rate of adoption applications has soared. “There has never been a time when the benefits of the human-animal bond have been so prevalent,” Chew said. “As many people’s lives change dramatically and stress continues to weigh heavily on families, the comforting presence of a pet makes a huge difference.”

This year, ARF is hosting its 30th annual Stars to the Rescue benefit concert from March 11-14. The virtual event will be “a reunion of sorts” for Stars to the Rescue alumni, Chew said.

“We’re excited to welcome newcomers Luke Combs and Gloria Estefan, in addition to Trace Adkins, Kevin Cronin, Dennis DeYoung, The Doobie Brothers, Vince Gill, Sammy Hagar & The Circle, Bruce Hornsby, Christian McBride, Jeffrey Osborne, Timothy B. Schmit, Mickey Thomas and more!” 

Fundraising events like Stars to the Rescue support ARF’s ongoing mission and projected expansion. This spring, ARF will open a new Pets and Vets Center, plus additional animal care facilities and outdoor dog fields.

As part of ARF’s expanded Pets and Vets program, the new veterans service center, seen here as an artist’s rendering, is slated for a spring 2021 opening.

“This expansion will enable ARF to save as many as 500 more dogs per year as well as expand ARF’s Pets and Vets program to serve more veterans who have PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, anxiety and severe depression,” said Chew. During times of great anxiety and isolation, the unconditional love and companionship of a pet has brought a welcome solace. And there is no shortage of animals in need that are eager to take on those roles.” 

Stars to the Rescue tickets are on sale now for streaming access between Thursday, March 11 and Sunday, March 14. Support the lifesaving work of Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation online.

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