By Jim Charshafian
When the San Antonio Rampage face off against the Peoria Rivermen this Saturday, the players on the ice might hear an extra yelp or two from the crowd cheering them on. No, we don’t mean the boisterous fans hooting and hollering before the puck drops, we’re talking about the hundreds of dogs that will be in attendance that night.
As a part of the Rampage’s Pucks and Paws Night, Spurs Sports & Entertainment will attempt to set a world record for most dogs at a sporting event with their themed night aimed at raising awareness toward pet responsibility.
The Rampage will be teaming with Alamo Area Partners for Animal Welfare (A APAW) and more than 20 other non-profit organizations from the San Antonio area to help curb the number of stray animals around the city. In addition to the information that will be provided concerning pet adoption and no-kill animal shelters around the concourse, dogs will be available to be adopted on the spot at the arena.
Tickets for dogs costs $5 each and can be bought just like any other ticket, over the phone, online, or at the box office. All proceeds from each dog ticket sold benefits AAPAW.
Fans are allowed to let their canines roam around the entire lower level of the concourse as long as they are leashed and water stations for the dogs will be available. There will be no additional stations provided by SS&E for pets to relieve themselves at the event but Rampage staff will be on hand for any accidents or incidents that may occur on site.
“I’m excited,” said Rampage defenseman Tyson Strachan. “These nights are always fun and hopefully we get a lot of people who are willing to give these stray dogs a good home.”
Strachan, along with his girlfriend, Kate, own two dogs that were strays before they adopted them. Together they have an Italian mastiff named Raja and a mixed-breed named Soder.
The couple’s involvement in raising awareness in pet responsibility dates back to Strachan’s playing time with the St. Louis Blues from 2008 to 2011. He credits former teammate David Backes for getting him involved in the cause.
“I have to give a lot of credit to (Kate), she had Soder before we even got together,” said Strachan, “but I also have to give credit to Dave and Kelly Backes in St. Louis. I was playing with Dave over there the past few years and they are absolutely passionate about the cause and they helped us along the way in finding out how we could get involved. They do tremendous work over there in St. Louis. It’s a great cause and it’s something that we’ve become passionate about as well.”
Strachan enjoys being able to come home and have his two canines waiting for him after a tough day on the ice.
“It’s nice to just get away from the rink and go to the dog parks with them,” he said. “I used to take Soder fishing a lot but he doesn’t like to swim too much. It doesn’t matter what’s going on at the rink, when you go home they’re always wagging their tails and happy to see you and put a smile on your face.”
Center Bracken Kearns and his fiancé, Julien, are also dog lovers. They have a French bulldog named Franc and enjoy taking him outdoors whenever they get the chance.
“I love animals in general,” said Kearns. “In the summertime I like to take my dog to the park and be outside with him. I find it really entertaining and lovable. I can’t imagine life without having a pet or two.”
Like last year, Franc will have a ticket to this year’s Pucks and Paws night and Kearns is looking forward to seeing him there.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “Last year we had a Pucks and Paws Night and it was a great success. My dog was there and it was pretty funny looking up at the big screen and seeing people with their dogs.
“At a spot like this, an arena, where it’s not normally allowed, it’s cool to have the opportunity to bring your dog.”
Kearns enjoys bringing Franc to the beach and letting him run around.
“He’s obsessed with the ocean even though he can’t actually swim,” he said. “He goes as far up to his neck in the water as he can before he won’t push it anymore. We just have a blast with the guy.”
Pucks and Paws Night began with the Rampage during the 2007-08 season and, according to Ryan Snider, director of hockey business operations, was a successful venture that they took notice of when it was held by many professional baseball teams around the country.
“Our former vice president of human resources was an initial board member of AAPAW,” said Snider. “She basically took the bull by the horns for the first two Pucks and Paws games and formed the relationship with them.”
Matt Kalister, manager of business operations with the Rampage, said the club views the experience as an opportunity to get certain fans to the arena who otherwise wouldn’t come to a hockey game.
“We have a lot of people that only come out to this game every year and for a majority of them, they are new fans,” said Kalister. “For us, it’s the benefit of getting new fans exposed to a great sport and a lot of times they’ll come back in the future for more games once they’ve been here with their pet.
“We feel like San Antonio is a terrific marketplace for pets and pet owners and this is a great event for all of us to come together and celebrate that in an unforgettable way. Hopefully, we’ll be honored with a unique record that will stand for a long time.”
Rampage staff will also be working with the non-profit organizations attending the event while the game is going on. Evan Maxwell, senior manager of franchise game operations with Spurs Sports & Entertainment, will head the effort.
“It’s probably the biggest non-profit type event in the city,” said Maxwell. “I think our organization has done more for animal welfare on a larger scale than a lot of places in the city. To get 20-plus non-profit organizations in one building together and harping the same message as it pertains to pet ownership is a great thing.”
Adoption will be one of the main areas of concentration for Maxwell and his team on Pucks and Paws Night.
“We try to get as many dogs as possible adopted at the event and try to give our fans as much info as we can to hopefully leading them to finding their newest family member,” he said.
“It’s more about information. If people want to walk out of the AT&T Center that day with a dog, that’s great. If people want more information about adopting for themselves or for their families, that’s great too. It’s about communicating with the fans that San Antonio has an issue right now with responsible pet ownership. We want to let the people know that they can help in curbing the number of stray animals and giving them a nice family to enjoy every single day.”
The game operations crew has more than a few fun events planned for the dogs to partake in.
“We try to involve pets wherever we can, whether it’s riding the Zamboni or having the ceremonial puck drop coming from a dog, which we aim to do again this year.”
Either way, Pucks and Paws Night plans to be a fun night for all attending.
“Almost all of the dogs that come in here are very well behaved and interact well with other animals,” said Maxwell. “Even if you’re a regular Rampage fan, it’s a really cool event to be a part of. It’s a unique environment to be at for a game.”