Bark at the Park: New York Mets and North Shore Animal League America go for home run

North Shore Animal League America has formed a special bond with the New York Mets — one that encourages fans to root, root, root for an end to pet homelessness. Wunderdog’s New York correspondent Beth Ann Mayer discusses the relationship and annual event that brings pets and humans together to enjoy America’s pastime with North Shore Animal League America vice president of strategic development and partnerships Diana Zaferiou

Mets infielder Jeff McNeil had been begging his wife, Tatiana, for a dog since 2018. In July, he laid eyes on a collie-shepherd-huskie mix with droopy brown eyes and floppy ears. She was at the stadium as part of Bark at the Park, a promotion the Mets and New York rescue North Shore Animal League America partner on three times per year to raise awareness and money for homeless pets. It was love at first sight. When he hit a three-run home run later that night, he knew he had to have her.

A cool-eyed super-fan attend Bark at the Park (all images courtesy of North Shore Animal League America)

Her name is now Willow, and she is living the good life with the McNeils. She even has 13,000 followers on Instagram (50,000 shy of her famous dad, but she’s approaching Top Dog status). Things worked out well for North Shore Animal League America too. They received coverage not only in New York papers but The Washington Post and The Athletic. 

“It really puts the message out about pet adoption [and] gives people an opportunity to see that connection we all have when we’re in the presence of a puppy or dog…the unconditional love that goes both ways,” says vice president of strategic development and partnerships Diana Zaferiou. “[That] message is hard to convey in a different way. It would look like you’re trying to preach to somebody, but this allows that whole experience to just evolve.”

The human-animal bond will be on full display Sept. 26 at the Mets’ home stadium, Citi Field, for the third and final 2019 installment of Bark at the Park. The promotion, which began in 2005, allows pet parents to take their dogs out to the ballgame. The proceeds of the dogs’ tickets go to North Shore Animal League America, which bills itself as the world’s largest no-kill rescue. Communications manager Ilene Schreibman says the partnership with the Mets raises “several thousands of dollars each year” for the organisation. 

Purchasing a ticket for their dog also gives fans access to another unique opportunity: The chance to step onto the field for a pre-game parade around the warning track. Though they will get to walk by and peer into dugouts — perhaps catching a closer-than-usual glimpse of their favorite star — their eyes tend to be on their best friends.  

“People are just so proud of their pets,” says Diana. “The pets are family members, and it’s a way to make a statement… how pets enrich our lives.”

The Mets also have a strong merchandising game

Vet techs and behaviourists are there to ensure everyone is playing nicely and staying safe, and other members of North Shore Animal League America are also on the field during the pre-game parade to help with clean-up duties (hey, dogs are smart, but they don’t know the difference between the warning track at a Major League baseball stadium and the neighborhood sidewalk!). 

Dogs and their humans then get to watch the game from a special section — giving furry friends peanuts and cracker jacks (or hot dogs) isn’t required but recommended just this once. 

A pretty large cheque – for one year

The relationship between the Mets and North Shore Animal League America won’t end once the parade clears or the final out is recorded. The Mets are a sponsor of the organisation’s annual luncheon, and staff members and players’ wives often volunteer on and off the campus, helping with tasks such as grooming and cleaning. Mr. Met is a fixture at the annual Adoptathon, and Mookie Wilson, who knocked in the game-winning run in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, once showed up to sign autographs. In other words, there’s more than just puppy love between the two organisations.

“They’ve walked the talk,” Diana says. “They’re here, hands-on, helping on numerous occasions.”

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