Tony La Russa severs ties with Bay Area's Animal Rescue Foundation citing mismanagement

Bay City News
Thursday, March 9, 2023
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WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- Hall of Fame baseball manager Tony La Russa and his family have severed ties with the Walnut Creek-based animal rescue nonprofit the family founded some 30 years ago.

La Russa -- the former manager of the Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox -- and his family originally founded the Animal Rescue Foundation after La Russa corralled a stray cat on the field at the Oakland Coliseum during a game in 1990.

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After discovering the Bay Area had a dearth of no-kill shelters, Tony and his wife Elaine launched ARF, initially known as Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation. ARF is now located in the Shadelands Business Park.

The La Russa family said in a statement Wednesday that the organization's "current leadership, policies and attitudes" are no longer aligned with the passion for animals with which the family originally founded ARF.

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"The foundation was like an extended family, everyone contributed to this close-knit personal culture," Tony La Russa said. "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."

The La Russa family -- including Tony, Elaine and their daughters Bianca and Devon -- sent a cease-and-desist letter to ARF March 3, withdrawing the organization's ability to utilize the family's names, likenesses, social media accounts and quotes and demanding the organization formally remove all ties to the family within 90 days.

According to the La Russa family, the decision to terminate the relationship with ARF was finalized after an allegedly mishandled adoption of a dog named Lovebug on Feb. 9.

The organization allegedly allowed Lovebug to be adopted without a harness despite notes and instructions that the dog needed a harness. As a result, Lovebug escaped from the adoptive family before getting into their home.

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The La Russas also allege that ARF prematurely ended its attempts to rescue Lovebug. The dog was later safely caught and taken to safety by a group of volunteers, including members of the La Russa family.

According to the La Russas, ARF also elected to dismiss a volunteer of 20 years who had assisted with Lovebug's rescue, which the family argued is "heartbreaking and unacceptable."

While the La Russa family said its issues with ARF had developed over several years, the family elected to release a public statement after ARF announced Monday that the organization and the family had mutually agreed to part ways.

"We take this path with gratitude for all the La Russa family has contributed to ARF's advancement and extend our warmest wishes for success in their future endeavors," ARF CEO Susan Lee Vick said Monday. "At the same time, we're tremendously excited about ARF's expansion and new directions."

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The La Russa family argued the organization's statement was disingenuous and implied that the separation was mutual.

In a statement Wednesday, the organization did not comment on the Lovebug adoption but stated that ARF "takes great pride in the outstanding efforts of our dedicated staff and volunteers" and noted that ARF's Board of Directors voted March 1 to sever ties with the La Russa family.

"We extend our gratitude to Tony and his family for their passion for animals and support of our organization over the years," ARF said. "We remain committed to serving our beloved community and look forward to continuing to make a positive impact in the lives of animals and animals and the people who love them."

ARF has handled some 47,000 pet adoptions since its founding, according to the organization.