From an early age, Oakland A's minor league pitching prospect Blake Hassebrock learned the value of caring for animals in need. His aunt, Eve Roser, has dedicated her life to rescuing, caring for and arranging adoptions for dogs and cats in the Greensboro, North Carolina, region.
"She's done animal rescue work my whole life," Hassebrock said. "She has something like 40 dogs at a time and they are always rescuing dogs and finding them homes.
"As a child, I spent a lot of time with her and she was always rescuing animals. If there was ever a dog on the side of the road, she would always pull over and take that dog right to the veterinary clinic. I was always around animal rescue. I've never seen anyone treat animals the way my aunt does, like people."
Hassebrock himself rescued a dog last off-season.
"I rescued [the dog] from behind a foreclosure that I was fixing up with my buddy," Hassebrock said. "She was chained up to a tree in the backyard starving and I gave her my meatball sub that she almost swallowed whole. Then we took her to my aunt's animal clinic, where she had all of her vaccines and tests and now she lives out on their ranch."
Hassebrock said he was pulled over on his way to the clinic, but the cop let him go when he learned why they were headed to the clinic. Roser named the dog ‘Oakland.'
Hassebrock is now following his aunt's lead, using his position as an athlete in the public eye to raise awareness about the need for the care of animals that have been abused or neglected.
"Growing up around her definitely made me more compassionate about the treatment of animals and more willing to spread the awareness of this cause," Hassebrock said.
Hassebrock's aunt was heavily involved in the creation of "Susie's Hope," a movie about the inspiring story of Donna Smith Lawrence and a pit bull named Susie. Lawrence, who is a friend of Roser's, was attacked by a pit bull that had been abused and abandoned by its owners. Lawrence nearly lost her life and it took her two months before she was able to walk again.
The emotional trauma of the attack took even longer for Lawrence to overcome, but she was able to begin the healing process when she met Susie, a pit bull puppy that had been discovered burned, beaten and left for dead in Greenfield Park in Greensboro, North Carolina. Nursed back to health by the Guilford County Animal Shelter, Susie was later adopted by Lawrence and her husband Roy.
The Lawrence family established a non-profit called Susie's Hope, which works to raise awareness about animal abuse. Roser and Hassebrock serve on the board. Through the non-profit, Donna and Roy gathered the support of their North Carolina community and lobbied for "Susie's Law," legislation that made the punishment for animal abuse stronger in the state of North Carolina. Signed into law as S.B. 254, "Susie's Law" makes it a Class H felony in North Carolina for anyone to "maliciously" kill or cause the death of an animal by "intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance." Previously, these crimes carried a Class A misdemeanor punishment.
The movie, "Susie's Hope," brings to the big screen the devastating consequences of animal abuse and documents both Donna and Susie's inspiring stories of triumph over tragedy. Made in honor of Hassebrock's grandmother Gaye Johnson, the movie stars Emmanuelle Vaugier (CSI: NY, Covert Affairs) as Donna, among others. For more information about the movie, the non-profit and the story of Donna and Susie, please visit their website: http://www.susieshope.com.
On October 5, Hassebrock, Roser and Hassebrock's girlfriend Alexandra Graebe attended the American Humane Association's Hero Dogs Awards. The ceremony was created in 2010 to "celebrate the remarkable bond between dogs and people in a positive way." The star-studded event was held at Beverly Hilton Hotel and it will be televised on October 30 on the Hallmark Channel. Joey Lawrence (Blossom, Melissa & Joey) served as host.
At the event Hassebrock made a larger commitment to the AHA's cause by agreeing to serve on their National Leadership Council for the upcoming year.
"I got to meet a lot of people and see a lot of things that really opened my eyes to the work being done," Hassebrock said.
"To have any kind of a voice as an athlete, I think this is one of the best causes I could contribute to. I'm lucky to be able to help if I can."
As a member of the council, he will be working to raise the profile of the causes of the AHA, which has advocated for the protection of children and animals from abuse and neglect since 1877. He hopes to raise money for and awareness of the AHA's Red Star Rescue program, among other AHA programs.
Through Red Star, the AHA is able to deliver emergency supplies, medical attention and shelter to animals displaced during natural disasters such as hurricanes or floods. This project hits particularly close to home for Hassebrock, as the Red Star Rescue program is in need of funds to purchase a rescue vehicle that will be stationed in his home state of North Carolina, where it will be able to be deployed up and down the East Coast on a moment's notice.
Last baseball season, Hassebrock spent the bulk of the year with the High-A Stockton Ports before receiving a promotion to the Double-A Midland RockHounds for the final month of the year. In 2014, Hassebrock is looking forward to working with the front office of whatever affiliate he is assigned to in order to bring attention to the cause of fighting animal abuse and neglect.
"Wherever I end up this year, I'll hopefully be able to spread some awareness," Hassebrock said.
For more information on the American Humane Association, please visit their website: (http://www.americanhumane.org/). For information about the Hero Dog Awards, please visit their website: http://www.herodogawards.org.