The Dog Days of David Backes

St. Louis Blues Rugged Captain Has A Soft Spot In His Heart For Four-Legged Friends
By: 
Lou Korac

While David Backes knows that his position as the captain of the St. Louis Blues has helped raise the profile of Athletes for Animals, it's his wife Kelly who is the driving force behind the program to call attention to the global problem of homeless petsWhile David Backes knows that his position as the captain of the St. Louis Blues has helped raise the profile of Athletes for Animals, it's his wife Kelly who is the driving force behind the program to call attention to the global problem of homeless pets

David Backes has a persona of a hard-nosed hockey player who delivers bone-crunching checks and heavy shots in his role as the captain of the St. Louis Blues. But when the Minneapolis native retires for the night, a different responsibility awaits him at home.

It’s a responsibility that requires him to give special attention to some lovable friends that crave nothing more than unconditional love and affection, and are more than willing to return the favor.

David and Kelly Backes may not have any kids but they are far from empty nesters in their suburban St. Louis home with four dogs, two cats and three foster kittens. Nine in all. And all are rescue animals.
Which makes the story of what the couple does with their non-profit organization they created in 2013 called Athletes for Animals all the more amazing.

Kelly, David’s wife, grew up around animals. David had one dog when he was a kid. But their mission began when the two were in college at Minnesota State-Mankato presently has one goal in mind: to rescue and protect homeless pets both nationwide and around the world.

“That kind of grew to, ‘OK, we’re in St. Louis now. We want to connect with the community. Why not do something that we really love to do anyway and that’s help animals?’” said Backes, who joined the Blues in 2006.

“From that, we’ve grown it to now be our own organization that’s spreading its fingers nationwide and really helping animals all over the place.”

They started working with the St. Charles (Mo.) Humane Society. That grew to include the Five Acres Animal Shelter to David’s Dogs, which ultimately led to Athletes for Animals, a program that calls attention to the worldwide problem of homeless pets.

David’s name is most synonymous with the organization, but he readily admits, “Truthfully, my wife does most of the work. I get a lot of the credit for a lot of this stuff, but she’s the brains and a lot of the workforce behind what we do. It's just a real passion for both of us.”

What started with the Backeses has grown beyond hockey. Some of the names involved as athlete ambassadors include Blues defenseman Barret Jackman and his wife Jenny, who have two adopted dogs of their own; Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings), David Perron (Edmonton Oilers), Erik Johnson (Colorado Avalanche) and Tyson Strachan (Buffalo Sabres); along with St. Louis Rams players Jake Long, James Laurinaitis and Tim Barnes; and baseball’s Trevor Cahill (Arizona Diamondbacks), Mark Buehrle (Toronto Blue Jays), former St. Louis Cardinals pitchers Kyle McClellan and Brad Thompson; and U.S. Olympic curler Jessica Schultz.

“They’ve done an unbelievable job of bringing the athlete community together through baseball, football, hockey and other sports just to kind of get the awareness out around the country,” Jackman said of David and Kelly.

The couple has experienced heartbreaking stories close to home at puppy mills across Missouri and while on vacation in Bora Bora, where they spent two days driving around the French Polynesian island feeding homeless dogs.

“It’s shocking to still see in this day and age some of the cruelty that happens out there and some of the processes that still go on. Even just owner abandonment. It’s such a heartless act that we find unimaginable, but it happens every single day across America,” Kelly said. “It reinforces the need for our cause and for the whole mission behind Athletes for Animals.

“Without a doubt, it’s something that’s born in me. I know that’s my purpose and what I’m put on this earth to do.”

David even used his position on the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team to call attention that this is an international issue when he brought home two rescue dogs from Sochi, Russia.

“We’re not naive to think that bringing two [dogs] home is going to solve the stray pet population in Russia,” he said. “But we can tell their stories, spread awareness, start to educate people and hopefully they make better decisions regarding their animal care.”

While both he and his wife are overwhelmed by the support they have received for a cause so close to their hearts, they know that so much more needs to be done. That starts with raising awareness of the problem and then raising money to help find a loving home for every homeless pet.

 “Every penny that comes in from the public is going back out in the form of a grant to an innovative population control or education initiatives with other organizations,” David said. “Kelly and I take care of the overhead, so it’s all going back out.”

And while Backes is grateful for the support he’s received from the hockey community, including teammates and opponents alike, it will take a bigger team effort to eradicate the problem of homeless pets.

“It’s kind of a microcosm of what our organization’s striving to be. It’s athletes with big platforms coming together to do something great,” he said. “We’ll beat the heck out of each other when we’re on the ice, but when we’re off the ice, there’s respect there and the ability to really change a lot of social issues that come in front of us. And that’s what we’re all about.”

 

 

 

 

Lou Korac covers the St. Louis Blues for NHL.com.

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