Tony La Russa How One Cat Changed Everything

How La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) Makes a Difference 

 

By Amanda Kelly

 

For over two decades, the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) has worked to strengthen the vision of founder and Major League Hall of Famer, Tony La Russa, to rescue animals from disadvantaged circumstances and give them a second chance at life.

The story about how ARF got its start is almost legendary. In May 1990, a stray tortoise-shell cat interrupted a televised game between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics. Soon afterward La Russa, then-manager of Oakland, and his wife, Elaine, discovered that not a single no-kill shelter existed in the Bay Area. Knowing the animal would likely be euthanized, the couple took it upon themselves to find it a new home. Their experience and passion for helping animals led them to co-found ARF a year later.

ARF’s Executive Director, Elena Bicker, says, “When Tony found that cat on the field back in 1990, he had no idea this organization would grow to the level it has.”

Making a Career out of Making a Difference

Bicker came to ARF as a volunteer in 1993. It was a time when she still had aspirations to climb the corporate ladder. She volunteered for five years, assisting in fundraising efforts and serving as a puppy-foster home, before she took a sabbatical from her position at GE Capital to begin full-time work in animal welfare.

“The truth is I never looked back after I started,” she says. “The need is too great, and you make a difference every single day. Sometimes that’s better than a retirement plan.”

Bicker said that the single most important task ARF accomplishes each year also speaks to its core mission, and that is “People Rescuing Animals … Animals Rescuing People®.” Programs such as Pets for Vets, Pet Hug Pack, and more work to strengthen the human- animal bond not only to better people’s lives, but also to save the life of an animal.

To date, the charity has re-homed more than 35,000 dogs and cats rescued from kill-shelters. “We take animals from some of the most horrific situations and bring their unconditional love to people in disadvantaged circumstances,” Bicker says. “This gives the animal an opportunity to have a career of helping people.”

Sustaining La Russa’s Legacy

To establish a lasting legacy, Bicker says she prioritizes making ARF a solid, recognizable brand, as well as maintaining high levels of integrity. Her efforts have yielded good results, too. For nine consecutive years, Charity Navigator, the nation’s top charity evaluator, has ranked ARF a four- star charitable organization — a feat accomplished by only two percent of charities nationwide. “You want to contribute to an organization that you know is going to be there today, and be there tomorrow,” she says. “Because we all want to make a difference that has a lasting impression.”

As far as cultivating and expanding the reach of La Russa’s original vision, ARF continues to work to provide state-of-the-art programs that enable animals to live out their natural life span. “The biggest thing is that all of Tony’s work over the years has reached a point of sustainability,” Bicker says. “That’s probably the best gift we could give him. He worked hard to create something beautiful, and it will be successful for many years to come.”

For more information about ARF, its programs, or adoption services, visit www.arflife.org.

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Anthony “Tony” La Russa, Jr. made his MLB debut in 1963 and has continued to have a lasting impact on major league baseball to the present. During his tenure as manager of the Oakland A’s, La Russa led the team to three consecutive American League championships and the 1989 World Series title. In 2014, La Russa was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. At present, he serves as chief baseball analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks. La Russa and his wife have two daughters, Bianca and Devon, and they reside in Alamo, California.

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