NASCAR + Ryan Newman + Best Friends Animal Society = True Love

In the world of animal welfare, we spend a great deal of time talking to large groups of people, many of whom are involved in work similar to ours. But far beyond the sphere of our everyday work, there is a much bigger audience — an audience to whom our work in animal welfare is pretty much out of sight, out of mind.

That audience is the general public. Yes, the vast majority of Americans has little knowledge of the fact that homeless pets are dying by the thousands every single day in shelters across the country, or the need for spaying and neutering, or the importance of adopting rather than buying from a pet store. That’s why Best Friends puts a great deal of effort into promoting our work and the work of others, sending news releases and broadcasting them far and wide to make more people aware of these animals and the importance of stopping the killing in shelters.

Recently, we’ve begun to see that our ongoing public outreach is paying off. Karen Thompson, a producer with NASCAR Media Group, a TV company that covers the all-American sport of stock car racing, contacted Best Friends. Though Karen knew of Best Friends, it was only after some research that she had made the connection between Best Friends and one of her sport’s top drivers.

Ryan (the Rocket Man) Newman, winner of the 2008 Daytona 500, and one of the steadiest drivers on the NASCAR tour, has his own nonprofit organization. The Ryan Newman Foundation — in the best tradition of Best Friends — promotes the spaying/neutering of pets, the adoption of dogs and cats from animal shelters, and has made financial contributions to more than 100 animal welfare and rescue organizations.

Ryan and his wife, Krissie, were aware of our work. So when Karen suggested they come to our Sanctuary in Angel Canyon to film a pre-race segment for television, they jumped at the chance. And so just three days before his next big race — the Kobalt Tools 400 this Sunday in Las Vegas — Ryan and Krissie will join us on Thursday, not only as VIP guests, but also as sleeves-rolled-up volunteers and concerned animal welfare activists.

Thursday will indeed be a special day at the Sanctuary. Ryan and Krissie are scheduled to arrive in time to join us for our Thursday Village lunch program, where they will say hello to our employees.

Our employees will be wearing “Rocket Man No. 39” buttons to show their NASCAR spirit, and also to say thanks to the Newmans for their animal welfare work and their support of Best Friends.

Later in the afternoon, Ryan will be at the Best Friends Welcome Center to autograph his book, “Pit Road Pets,” which chronicles stories of NASCAR drivers and their pets. The Newmans are donating all the sales of the book Thursday to Best Friends.

Having a popular American sports personality here at the Sanctuary is indeed very special for all of us. But similar to the work of Major League Baseball pitcher Mark Buehrle and his wife, Jamie, in support of pit bulls in Florida, it points to a far more gratifying development.

It means that reaching the vast general public — perhaps the biggest challenge of all in promoting our message of No More Homeless Pets — is not only possible, it’s becoming more of a reality every day. The concept of adopting an animal from the local shelter — thanks to the ongoing support of mainstream athletes like Ryan and Mark — is no longer a novel concept but is now a mainstream idea with pet owners throughout the United States.

While all of us will be meeting the Newmans for the first time this week, it’s safe to say that after Thursday, Ryan, Krissie, daughter Brooklyn Sage, and their five rescue dogs, Mopar, Harley, Socks, Fred and Dunkin, will be our good friends. We thank the Newmans for their tireless work on behalf of the animals.

And most appropriately, we wish the Rocket Man safe travels and good fortune in the big race on Sunday.

Gregory Castle