The hard work of an athlete is often rewarded with a large paycheck, which can be used to furnish lavish lifestyles. However, some admirable athletes have broken out their checkbooks for the greater good. They donate to charities, fund disaster-relief efforts, boost alma-maters, create a scholarship fund, and so on.
Professional hockey player David Backes and his wife Kelly decided to put their money towards the animal welfare community, and they took things a step further. The Backes family started their own animal foundation called Athletes for Animals and tapped their professional athlete friends to join the cause.
Throughout Backes’ professional career in the National Hockey League, he played for the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, and Anaheim Ducks as a Centre/Right Wing. He also competed on Team USA in two Olympic games, winning silver in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. When Backes is not on the ice, he and his wife are raising donations for animal shelters and rescue groups across North America.
Prior to starting their own animal foundation, while dating in college, they would volunteer at a local humane society. Their dedication to animals was amplified when they adopted a severely abused and neglected dog named Rodney, which they helped nurse back to health. Their work with Rodney helped inspire their efforts, which led to the official launch of Athletes for Animals in 2013 with the intention of connecting athletes who share the same passion for animals.
“Our focus with Athletes for Animals is really using athletes’ platforms and projecting a louder voice,” said Kelly when describing the organization in an interview with Animal Planet.
“We’re really focusing on helping these animals that need us to get into loving homes and being a voice for the voiceless.”
A year after launching Athletes for Animals, David and Kelly faced a unique situation when arriving at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. They had received word that the Russian government had knocked down people’s homes to build stadiums for the Olympics. Because people were having to relocate or were left without homes, there became an overwhelming population of stray animals.
“When the government’s taking your home and you really have nothing left, providing for a dog is not your priority,” said David in the same interview.
“A lot of these were family dogs that were just put out in the streets because people couldn’t take them with them.”
While being a leader on the rink, David was also playing an essential role in the local community by helping the dogs left on the streets. He and Kelly would take food from the cafeteria every day and bring it to the local boardwalk to help keep the animals from starvation.
They immediately fell in love with two of the dogs, who they named Sochi Jack and Sochi Jr., and would sneak them into their hotel room late at night to provide them with a bath and comfort. The Backes’ did everything they could to try to bring their new furry friends home, but in the end he was not cleared to leave Russia.
The Backes’ efforts to bring the dogs home did not go unnoticed as other Olympians were inspired to help the Athletes for Animals cause. Several Olympians brought the homeless dogs home after the Games, which brought a lot of attention to the Backes’ cause and the importance of saving dogs all over the world. It was a prime example of athletes using their voice and platforms to educate the public on pet ownership and the importance of adopting.
Since they’ve launched their organization, Athletes for Animals has funded almost $870,000 in grants to animal shelters and rescue groups across North America. They’ve funded a total amount of 431 animal welfare projects and have impacted over 6,800 animals.
With a total of 28 athlete ambassadors, the organization as a whole has donated over 4,000 hours worth of their time to help support organizations with spay/neuter/vaccination funding, adoption, enrichment and retention programs, community outreach and education efforts, and vet expenses.
The list of all-star athletes on team Athletes for Animals includes Trevor Rosenthal , Kyle McClellan, David Freese, Mark Buehrle, Trevor Cahill, Barry Enright, Brad Thompson, Beau Brinkley, Jake Long, James Laurinaitis, Tim Barnes, Alex Pietrangelo, Anze Kopitar, Barret Jackman, Brian Flynn, David Backes, David Perron, Drew Stafford, Erik Johnson, Jake Allen, Jeff Carter, Steve Ott, Ryan Reaves, Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Tyson Strachan, and Jessica Schultz.
By broadcasting their message of responsible pet ownership through their large public platforms, these athletes are able to address the root of the problem with the goal of reducing the number of homeless pets. They are determined to change the negative perception of homeless animals and grant funds to various organizations that demonstrate best practices in pet care and adoption.
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