Last Straw for Family was ARF Mishandled Dog Adoption, Dismissal of Volunteer
Walnut Creek, Calif.—(3.8.23)—Tony La Russa and his family have severed ties with the non-profit the family founded, Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), and have demanded it remove their names and likenesses from the organization’s websites and all communications.
“Compassion and care for animals is our family’s passion,” Tony La Russa said. “But ARF’s current leadership, policies, and attitudes work against fulfilling its mission. We have concluded we must completely separate ourselves, our name and our reputation from ARF.”
“ARF was always about a coming together of like-minded people who shared a passion for animals, which created a bond of mutual respect and trust. The foundation was like an extended family, everyone contributed to this close-knit personal culture. This culture was an important factor in ARF’s early and continued success. That is, sadly, no longer the case, which is why we no longer want to be associated with the foundation we created,” La Russa added.
La Russa family attorney Shauna N. Correia of the San Francisco law firm Weintraub Tobin sent ARF a cease and desist letter March 3. The letter withdraws consent to use the La Russa names, likenesses, social media accounts, and quotes, and demands ARF formally remove within the next 90 days, Tony La Russa’s name from the organization originally founded by the La Russas in 1991 as “Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation.”
La Russa’s attorneys, writing on behalf of Anthony “Tony” La Russa Jr., wife Elaine LaRussa, and daughters Bianca LaRussa and Devon LaRussa, also demanded the return of the family’s indisputably personal baseball and music memorabilia from the MLB Hall of Famer’s collection on display at ARF.
The final straw for the family with ARF came with a mishandled adoption of the dog, Lovebug, on Feb. 9. In spite of behavior notes and instructions stating that a harness was needed for the dog, Lovebug was sent with her elderly adopters without a harness, and almost immediately escaped before they even got her into their home.
Nearly two weeks after Lovebug’s escape, and after numerous sightings of her by neighbors, the La Russas learned that ARF decided to halt what few rescue attempts the organization had been making. That night, with freeze warnings forecasted, a dedicated group of volunteers (including members of the La Russa family) set a trap for Lovebug.
Within two hours, the dog was rescued in the trap and taken to safety. The next day, the La Russa family personally refunded Lovebug’s adoption fee and worked with her adopters to transfer ownership – alleviating any liability for ARF. Instead of celebrating a life saved and disastrous consequences avoided, the exceptional 20-year volunteer who assisted in the rescue coordination was told her services were no longer needed. This response to a person who has devoted 10-15 hours per week to the organization for 20 years, and fostered over 570 animals, is heartbreaking and unacceptable.
The family intended to part ways in a less-public way, but said it took exception to a website post by ARF on Monday, March 6 that stated “after more than three decades of successful partnership, the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) announced today that the organization and Tony La Russa have agreed to part ways” implying that ARF’s leadership decided to disconnect from the La Russa family in order “to meet today’s new challenges.”
“This statement is disingenuous and deceptive. Behavior like this is among the many reasons we no longer want to be associated with ARF,” said Bianca LaRussa. “This was not mutual, nor was our action a severed ‘partnership’ as ARF claims. Our family founded this organization. ARF has been our hearts for over 30 years.”
The concerns by the La Russa family about ARF have been brewing for several years.
In 2021, the La Russa family resigned from the ARF board, but agreed to remain loosely affiliated with ARF to aid in its fundraising efforts while ARF allegedly worked to make changes. But, in the past two years, ARF has not meaningfully addressed any of the concerns that the La Russa family raised, and continues to make decisions that the family cannot in good conscience, support – like the nearly-tragic Lovebug situation.
“ARF was truly a family passion project. The La Russa family did not just set up a nonprofit and walk away – the entire family has been actively involved with ARF for over 30 years, at every level. Unfortunately, after stepping off the Board in 2021, the La Russa family has not seen the improvements that they hoped ARF’s Board would make, with regard to board governance issues, administration of key ARF programs and policies, and the way ARF handles situations like Lovebug’s” said the family’s attorney.
The La Russa family founded the Tony La Russa Animal Rescue Foundation, which saves dogs and cats who have run out of time at public shelters, and seeks to place them in forever homes. The organization’s pet-assisted therapy programs further strengthen ARF’s dual mission of People Rescuing Animals…Animals Rescuing People® by sharing the many benefits of companion animals with children, seniors, U.S. military veterans, and others. One of the programs Tony La Russa is most proud of is the “Pets and Vets” program, which matches veterans with service dogs in training and emotional support animals, free of charge.
The foundation has its origin from May 7, 1990, when, during a game for Major League Baseball teams the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, a stray cat wandered onto the playing field at Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum. The game was halted as the cat ran around the field.
La Russa (then manager of the Oakland A’s) coaxed the cat into the dugout, and began looking for a local shelter to re-home the cat. Tony and Elaine could not find a shelter, and learned that the cat would most likely be euthanized. They decided to open their own shelter, and in February of the following year, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation opened.
In spite of disconnecting from ARF, the La Russas remain extremely passionate about animal welfare, and they continue to support and devote time, energy and resources to this worthy cause through a variety of organizations.
Contact: Sam Singer