Chase and Jen Utley are relatable.
Sure, Chase is arguably the best second baseman in Philadelphia Phillies history but it’s his and his wife’s work off the field that connects them with residents of the city and beyond.
- PHOTOS: Filipino devotees nailed to crosses to re-enact crucifixion4 Pictures
- PHOTOS: Memorial spotlights the man behind Nipsey Hussle rap persona14 Pictures
Tonight, the Utleys will hold their sixth annual All-Star Animals Casino Night, an invitation-only event that benefits the Pennsylvania SPCA, where Jen is a member.
“If you’re someone who cares about animals, you see the problem never dies,” Jen said of animal abuse in the state. “It’s constant inspiration to keep doing what you do.”
And the Utleys do what they do because they love animals.
“This stems from my life and Chase’s life as well,” Jen said.
Naturally, the Phillies organization has played a huge role in making all this possible.
“Ever since day one,” Chase said, “we’ve had tremendous support from my teammates and my organization. That’s something that’s special. We care about one another but not only on the field.”
Several of Chase’s teammates—along with other Phillies staff—go to the event each year. Michael Barkann and Susan Barnett emcee the night with other media personalities and VIPs in attendance. Nearly $1.5 million has been raised since the Utleys began the casino night.
“It’s wonderful to have that support and do your passion projects,” Jen said. “We’ve been really fortunate our event has gotten bigger.”
Over the years, the same amount of people who approach Chase and his wife on the streets to talk baseball, talk to them about animal adoption.
“It’s always really nice when we’re just walking down the street and people say, ‘I know you really love dogs and cats. We adopted our animal.’ It’s little things like that,” Jen said.
The Utleys adopted their pit bull Jack but also have two other adoptees—cats named Sebastian and Sugar. Jen gave birth to their son Benjamin in 2011 and even though he’s too young to know what’s going on, Chase said, he’s very well adapted to the animals.
“He’s great,” Chase said. “He’s awesome. He tries to tackle our cat.”
It’s the real kind of abuse he and his wife are concerned with. And it starts with educating city kids, they said. The Utleys visit schools and work on mural projects that depict kindness to animals.
“If we can have the kids understand it’s not right and it’s not acceptable,” Chase said, “that’s where we can get everything to stop. The kids are awesome.”
The Utleys will start work with Vare Middle School students and muralist David Guinn on their third mural in Grays Ferry. They've partnered up with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
There are reported cases of animal abuse and dog fighting rings nearly every day in the city and its suburbs, said officials with the SPCA.
“For most of these kids,” Jen said, “they are seeing dog fights.”
But there are major issues with cats, chickens, rooster fighting and even horses.
The mural projects “really sort of make children aware of what they see,” Jen said. Then, they are “able to tell what’s okay and what’s not.”
“They are so into animals,” said Jen of the kids. “It’s great.”
Tonight’s event is also special to SPCA CEO Jerry Buckley, who celebrates one year with the group May 22.
“This is the single biggest fundraiser,” Buckley said. “With Chase and Jen, it’s all very genuine. It’s heartfelt. They do not stand on ceremony. Jen rolls up her sleeves. She’s here and she’s involved and it means a great deal to this organization.”
Utley, SPCA pushing for cost of care legislation
Both Buckley and Jen Utley are working with legislators on a bill that would require abused animal owners to pay for their pets' care during the animals' stay at the SPCA while the owners are tied up in legal proceedings.
Right now, the SPCA pays for vet care, food and shelter for 75 animals in protective custody. The legislation would call for $15 a day for the animals' care.
"If that passes," Buckley said, "the owner says they won't put up the money, then we are able to surrender the animals and put them up for adoption."
Jen Utley said there have been animals locked up in court cases for two years.
"At some point, we’re draining all of our funds for these animals that should be our property," she said. "Instead, these criminals who are not positive members of society are allowed to own these dogs and not pay for them."