SHELTER OF THE MONTH
TONY LA RUSSA'S
ANIMAL RESCUE FOUNDATION
Elena Bicker, ARF’s executive director, recently had a chance to sit down with Animal Place to talk about Food for Thought and why their agency continues to champion an animal friendly menu policy.
Legendary baseball executive, Tony La Russa, formed ARF after he rescued a stray cat from the baseball field and was dismayed to learn that the local shelter would euthanize him. Tony’s ‘no-kill’ philosophy extends to farm animals too. How did he become a vegetarian?
Tony’s concern for animal welfare extends into his personal life. His wife and ARF’s co-founder, Elaine, is an animal lover and was the driving force behind the La Russa family’s vegetarianism.
Tell us about ARF’s animal friendly menu policy.
Serving a vegetarian menu at events is another extension of ARF’s mission statement. An animal-friendly menu is consistent with our policies and practices regarding animal welfare.
Our policy is written out in our Personnel Policies Manual and was adopted by our board of directors. It reads, in part:
Consistent with our mission statement, it is ARF’s policy to serve a vegetarian menu at its events…A vegetarian menu will exclude all meat, poultry, fish, and seafood products...When and where appropriate, the menu should contain a statement of ARF’s vegetarian preference.
How have your staff and supporters taken to the policy?
We have never had any complaints! Most people don’t notice at our cocktail reception-style events that there is an absence of meat when the food is so delicious. Last week, portabella sliders were served at the Chairman’s Reception to rave reviews.
Why do you feel it’s important for shelters and rescue groups to adopt such an animal friendly menu policy?
It relays a consistency with an organization’s mission and/or message. We are concerned with the welfare of ALL animals, not just the dogs and cats we have at our shelter.
Event planning can be a very fun and rewarding part of the animal rescue world. What are some of the events that ARF hosts and what might be on the menu?
Wine & Whiskers is our annual fundraiser with wine tasting and vegetarian hors d’oeuvres provided by food and wine vendors. Our ARF Awards Dinner is a catered gourmet vegetarian dinner. Vegetarian enchiladas and rice and beans are a popular staple at our Volunteer Appreciation Event. All our in-house events for staff and volunteers are vegetarian, and our menus are as varied as our events!
The Business of Saving Lives conference is our annual conference for animal welfare professionals where we present speakers and workshops on animal behavior, shelter wellness, best business practices, and more! This year we were thrilled to host more than 70 animal rescue organizations and a record 200 attendees for our special 10th anniversary conference.
We offered a lunch of macaroni and cheese, salad, and a build-your-own-sundae ice cream bar (which was a hit!). In the past, we have served vegetarian lasagna and vegan chili and cornbread.
That sounds delish! Do you think it’s more commonplace to find animal welfare conferences serving only plant-based offerings? Do you see any reason for a conference to serve animal products anymore?
I believe it is becoming increasingly common, and that the numbers will continue to grow. We have not experienced any negative reactions to eliminating meat from our events and know it is possible to serve delicious, appealing animal-free foods.
Do you have any special anecdotes of anyone who may have been inspired by ARF’s animal friendly menu policy?
We did “inspire” the head chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco to create a beautiful vegetarian menu for our ARF Awards Dinner. The chef went out of his way to “wow” us with his creations - and he did! We truly appreciated the time and effort he took in making the menu something that aligned with our mission and that we could be proud to serve.
Any advice for shelter directors or event planners that may be on the fence about adopting an animal friendly menu policy?
There is truly no downside! Offering a vegetarian menu is a simple thing to do, and sends a message about where your organization stands in regards to animal welfare.
Rex is a one-year old with lots of energy and personality who has been overlooked here at ARF, but he really shines on his trail walks with volunteers! If you’re the outdoorsy type, he’d be a wonderful hiking and camping buddy, and might even like to learn to swim.