Blues’ David Backes continues efforts to help rescue animals with development of Athletes for Animals program

Edward Fraser
David and Kelly Backes (Photo by Julia Noack Photography)

As THN senior writer Ken Campbell detailed in cover story for the April 2, 2012 edition of The Hockey News, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes has been a champion of animal welfare and rescue efforts for nearly a decade.

And Sunday he and his wife, Kelly, announced plans to expand their efforts nationwide by founding Athletes for Animals.

According to a release:

Athletes for Animals is a united group of athletes, across the country and across sports, dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of companion animals nationwide.

The Backes’ have already received support from the professional sports community, with several athletes in the NHL, the MLB and the NFL that have committed to being a part of the Athletes for Animals team. The Athlete Ambassadors recognize the incredible impact their personal pets have made on their lives, so they are inspired to use their platforms to help homeless pets in need. They believe providing accurate information will help current and future generations make informed decisions about their animals, leading us to a more manageable pet population.

All of the money raised through Athletes for Animals will be made available to organizations that are doing lifesaving work in communities across our nation through a grant process. Funds will assist them in their dedicated efforts to improve the lives of homeless pets through animal care, adoption and educational programs.

Learn more about Athletes for Animals at athletesforanimals.org.

(Photo courtesy of Juila Noack Photography)

Here’s an edited version of Ken’s feature on Backes:

You would be amazed at what I picked up today,” said David Backes after a recent road trip. “After being gone for eight days with four dogs that sh–– twice a day in the backyard, there were at least five shovelfuls and I have a big spade shovel.”

Bet you never thought you’d read something like that in The Hockey News. Of course, you probably thought you’d never be reading about Backes, the biggest NHL star nobody talks about, either.

First of all, he’s the kind of guy who really annoys the living daylights out of people. Captain of the Blues pulling down $4.5 million a season? We’re good with that. But did he really have to marry the girl he met in kindergarten at Westwood Elementary School in Miss Bergerson’s Class of ’89? What’s up with the 4.0 grade point average three years running in electrical engineering at Minnesota State-Mankato? Oh yeah, and he just got his pilot’s license, which came in handy recently when he flew 700 miles from St. Louis to Houston to rescue three dogs.

Backes heads up David’s Dogs, an initiative he has undertaken with the Five Acres Animal Shelter in suburban St. Charles, Mo., in conjunction with the team, but that’s only a small part of the story.

It’s not uncommon for a high-profile athlete to stroke a few checks or be an honorary chairman and do PSAs for a charitable effort. It’s one thing for Drew Carey to advise everyone to get your pet spayed or neutered. It’s quite another to rescue a stray pregnant Boxer, section off a part of the basement for her to give birth, then rush her to the vet when the first of 12 puppies gets stuck and spend the better part of the next hour assisting a C-section by pulling puppies out of amniotic sacs, removing fluid from their mouths and clearing their airways – and then take all 12 puppies and the mother back home and keep them until permanent owners could be found.

There has to be some karma at work in that he plays in Missouri, which has the ignominious distinction of being the puppy mill capital of the world. Thousands of puppies are bred in those mills, where they live primarily in wire cages that barely allow them to move. Any time a dog is in heat, a stud is brought in with the objective of producing as many puppies as quickly as possible. The ones that don’t die are funneled through to pet stores, which buy them from the mills and sell them at a profit. The dogs, meanwhile, are often disease-ridden and unhealthy. Cages can be stacked one on top of each other, so the feces and the urine either falls on the ground or on the dog underneath.

Five Acres does what it can by being a “no-kill” shelter, meaning it will keep an animal in the shelter for as long as it takes to find a suitable owner. But it can’t prevent euthanasia days elsewhere in St. Louis. Five Acres takes in as many as it can from other shelters that euthanize their extra dogs, but you get the sense Backes and his wife Kelly want to save them all.

When Five Acres executive director Kim Brown pulls 10 dogs from the city’s animal control and saves them from death, nobody really cares. But when Backes and his wife fly to Houston to rescue three dogs, it gives the shelter a voice that goes far and wide. And all the better when the star of the show wants to do much more than smile for the camera.

The Backes’ household contains four rescued dogs, a beagle named Bebe, who Kelly rescued from a mill while it was pregnant with six puppies, three of which died at birth; Rodney, a Rottweiler who was tied to a tree outside a motorcycle gang house for five years; Marty, a Pit Bull/Lab mix who was wandering the streets of East St. Louis, Ill., with brucellosis, TVT cancer, a broken back and broken leg; and Rosey, a Shar-Pei/Boxer/Pit Bull mix, who at the time of her adoption had intestinal parasites, cracked ribs and a broken back leg.

In case that wasn’t enough, they also own two rescued cats, one of which has 24 toes. Currently they have two puppies in foster care in their home and are nursing them until they’re healthy enough to be brought to the shelter for adoption. “We’ve probably had about 20 foster dogs that have successfully been in and out of our house,” Backes said. “We have four that failed miserably and they’re with us forever.”

Backes, meanwhile, continues along with the Blues on their quest to win their first Stanley Cup. They’re not a glamorous outfit by any stretch of the imagination, but they have a “weenie hat,” which is basically a hat with a giant hot dog on top. The player deemed the hardest working contributor in a victory must wear it on television for post-game interviews. Fittingly, Backes was the first to earn. “I relished it and really embraced it,” Backes said.

Whether it’s wearing a hot dog or being the champion of the underdog, the Blues alpha dog is comfortable doing it.

Edward Fraser, The Hockey News’ managing editor, joined THN in 2005 after covering the Jr. B Stratford Cullitons. The London, Ont., native graduated from the University of Western Ontario – where he did campus radio color commentary for both men’s and women’s hockey – with a Master’s in Journalism.