Tony La Russa and ARF Donors Launch Pets for Veterans Building in Walnut Creek.

Tony La Russa and ARF Donors Launch Pets for Veterans Building in Walnut Creek.

On April 2nd, Tony La Russa and wife, Elaine, ARF’s Executive Director, Elena Bicker, President Greg McCoy along with other ARF Board of Directors joined a crowd of ARF staff and supporters in the current Animal Rescue Foundation facility parking lot. They had assembled for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the successful Saving Both Ends of the Leash® campaign, a landmark accomplishment for ARF which opened in 1991.


ARF’s existence can be credited to stray cat, “Evie” who disrupted a baseball game and thus revealed to La Russa and his wife Elaine that there wasn’t a suitable adoption resource for “Evie” in the East Bay. Tony La Russa credits his wife with the success of ARF.
“She’s a crusader,” says La Russa, “people trusted her early on. We were going to rescue them (the animals), and then then they started rescuing us.”
While ARF’s central mission of rescuing pets remains, ARF’s new roles and programs and the desire to save more animal’s lives has created a need for more facility space. The $18.7 million, 23,800 square-foot expansion at 2890 Mitchell Drive in Walnut Creek will include a nearly 8,000 sq. ft. Pets for Vets Center building, 30 additional kennels that will allow for another 500 dogs to be saved each year, and several all-weather training fields. ARF will also be adding solar panels to reduce its carbon footprint and save on energy costs.
“Tony had a vision,” said Jim Heim, head of Business Development, “It set out a year and a half ago and the support of so many people allowed for quick action.”
Quick action indeed. In 2017, the goal was to break ground in 2020. The fact that dirt was shifted in April 2019, a full year ahead of schedule, is a testament to the community support.
“We’ve never lost track of our original mission,” said La Russa while holding his newest canine companion, Sparkle. “Saving Both Ends of the Leash has gone beyond my expectations. Together we are saving lives, both human and animal.”

The Pets for Vets Program was launched seven years ago to give back to veterans who have served our country. The rescue dogs are particularly helpful for vets who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can be a devastating condition because those afflicted by it can be afraid to leave their homes or have episodic events during routine activities like grocery shopping. A companion dog can make all the difference in helping these former military personnel adjust to civilian life.
“We had a vision,” said La Russa. “We had a small version or the gold version. One was about 5 million bucks and the other was about 18.7. The Board said look at the potential of what’s happened in the first six years. And here it [the gold version] is.”
Danny Kimbrell, the Pets for Vets dog trainer, was in attendance for the groundbreaking along with several veteran graduates of the program and their dogs. The new facility will bring more responsibility to Kimbrell who will also be training other dog trainers as part of the program expansion. Danny who once served as a paratrooper in the 82nd airborne, was inspired to lead the program after training his own dog as a service canine.
Regular ARF operations, which include adoptions, ARF’s award-winning children’s summer camps, birthday parties, and veterinary services, will continue as normal during construction. However, the foster program will play a vital role in the rescue operations over the next 18 months.
“We have an outstanding foster network already helping us with animals who benefit from time in a home environment, such as young animals or those recovering surgery,” said Bicker. “We strongly encourage anyone who has additional room in their home and heart to consider becoming a foster during this time when we’ll utilize all our resources as we continue our life-saving work.”
While the funds are nearly raised, there is a small shortfall. The majority of the expansion funding has come from individuals and ARF is asking the community for support to raise the final 1 million dollars. The Engelstad Family is matching all gifts 2:1, so every $1 donated translates to $3. To donate visit: arflife.org/campaign.

Jill Hedgecock’s passion for dog rescue led her to start the Ruby-dooby_Do column for the Diablo Gazette in 2017. Two ARF rescue dogs that have been featured in her column have found forever homes. The mascot for the column, Ruby, a zipper-nosed Doberman, is the inspiration for the canine character in Jill’s second novel, Between Shadow’s Eyes to be released later this year.
www.jillhedgecock.com