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The catalyst for ARF came on May 7, 1990 at a televised baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees. In the middle of an inning and amidst cheers from spectators, a stray tortoiseshell cat looking for food took a wrong turn and suddenly found herself on the playing field.

Trapped in the enormous Oakland Coliseum and frightened by the roar of the crowd, the frantic cat dashed around the field, desperately leaping at any means of escape and eluding the players and umpires who tried to capture her. Panicked and unable to find a way out, she slinked towards the infield, exhausted from her ordeal. Tony La Russa, then-manager for the Oakland Athletics, coaxed her gently into the A's dugout where she would spend the rest of the game in safe confines. 

Tony and his wife Elaine, a life-long animal advocate, discovered there was not a single no-kill shelter in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area and that the little cat would likely be euthanized. They took her under their wing and exhausted every lead in hopes of finding a safe haven. At last, they were able to place "Evie" – named after Oakland A's team owner, Evie Haas - in a permanent, loving home where she could live out her natural life.

Evie wouldn't be the last "save" of Tony's career.

The experience awakened Elaine and Tony to the realization of the desperate circumstances in besieged public animal shelters and the plight of homeless dogs and cats, and inspired them to take action. Less than a year later, they co-founded ARF with the goal of rescuing dogs and cats before they ran out of time at high-kill shelters.

In donated office space with a small team of driven volunteers, ARF worked tirelessly to save the lives of more than one hundred dogs and cats its first year. It wasn't long before ARF's board of directors realized that of equal importance to rescuing animals was the remarkable role they play in the lives of people. ARF's dual mission of People Rescuing Animals ... Animals Rescuing People® was born.

Early humane education programs began in 1993, ingraining an early love of animals in school-aged children. Two years later, a therapy animal team and other programs introduced the unconditional love and acceptance of animals to seniors, veterans, at-risk youth, and more people in need. Programs to help low-income pet guardians keep their beloved pets in homes and out of shelters soon followed.

In 2003, ARF completed construction on its current home - a 37,700 square foot animal shelter and community center in Walnut Creek, California. The following year, the first campers arrived at Camp ARF's summer programs for young animal-lovers. These days, more than 600 children attend these award-winning summer camps every year. In 2006, Charity Navigator awarded ARF it's highest rating of four stars - a rating which ARF has continued to earn for 13 consecutive years. 2011 marked the budding of ARF's Pets and Vets program with free dog and cat adoptions for military veterans. This new focus on helping America's heroes has resulted in more than 50 service animals graduating through Pets and Vets training, and even more emotional support animals providing love and comfort to their veteran companions. And in 2019, ARF broke ground on the new, 7,900 square foot headquarters for ARF's Pets and Vets, allowing us to furhter our efforts of Saving Both Ends of the Leash®. The new facility is schedueld to open in 2021.

Today, ARF is renowned as a local leader and national model in the animal welfare community. Since its inception, ARF has re-homed more than 44,000 dogs and cats saved from public animal shelters, performed more than 51,000 spay and neuter surgeries to combat pet overpopulation, and is home to an array of innovative outreach and education programs bringing people and animals together to enrich each other's lives. 

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