“I think kids have a natural affinity for animals,” says Jennifer Utley, wife of Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.
She can’t say for sure what sparked her own lifelong love of animals, but she does know it began at an early age. She has since poured herself into causes whose aim is to protect dogs, cats and other creatures that can’t always protect themselves. She serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and, in January 2011, co-founded the Utley Foundation to educate the community about the proper treatment of animals and fund nonprofit organizations that fight the neglect, pain and suffering of animals.
Jennifer started volunteering with the PSPCA for something to do during the first of Chase’s six (so far) seasons in Philadelphia, and her work has since turned into a full-time job. Part of it includes “Save a Pet at the Park,” which she started with her fellow Phillies wives, where the PSPCA brings to-be-adopted cats and dogs to a Phillies game, and fans donate items for the PSPCA.
Born in San Francisco, Jennifer was a dance major at UCLA and finished with a degree in history. (That’s where mutual friends introduced her to Chase in her senior year.) After graduation she worked in Los Angeles for Access Hollywood, as assistant to the host and then as a wardrobe stylist. The Phillies drafted Chase the year they met, and he soon entered the team’s farm system and began playing in the minors. The two had a long-distance relationship for six years before getting married.
Jennifer had strong ties to Philadelphia long before her husband became one of the most beloved Phillies of all time. Her father was born in Cheltenham before moving to Connecticut and then to the West Coast, and she still has family in the area. But as much as she likes Philly, the Utleys make their offseason home in California, which they will share with a newborn son. (As Suburban Life went to press, Jennifer she was due to deliver imminently.) They also have several rescue animals, though Chase “would get five more dogs, if he could,” Jennifer says.
In 2008, the Utleys began hosting a series of Utley All-Star Animals events, raising nearly $1 million to support the PSPCA’s Etana Fund to Stop Cruelty Against Animals. The fifth annual flagship event, Utley All-Star Animals Casino Night, is in May 2012.
Her efforts could not have come at a better time, because reported animal-cruelty cases in Pennsylvania have more than tripled in the past few years. The Utley Foundation has since expanded its efforts by educating children on the proper treatment of animals. In September, the oldest canine club in the world, The Kennel Club of Philadelphia, presented the Utleys with the first-ever Dogs’ Best Friend Award.
“Philadelphia has some of the highest rates of dog fighting in the nation,” she says. “We’re getting more calls than ever and, hopefully, it’s because more people are reporting animal abuse and not that the abuse is increasing. … Rather than blaming people who abuse animals, we work to educate people to prevent that,” especially kids.
For example, the Utley Foundation is working with the Mural Arts Program on a project with Anna B. Pratt Elementary School in West Philadelphia, whose schoolyard had a history of dog fights after hours.
In March, 100 children joined the Utleys at an assembly about proper treatment, respect and kindness toward animals. Later, 180 children painted a “Kindness to Animals” mural using a paint-by-numbers system on parachute cloth. The Utleys are already working with students on a second mural. And it’s just the beginning.
“We are reaching kids at the age when they still love animals,” she says. “They see that their best friends show nothing but love and loyalty and turn to them for protection.”
Jennifer, who says the foundation has the ability to expand beyond the Delaware Valley, believes raising awareness of and money for abused animals is the most important work she has ever done. “I didn’t know how much work it would be,” she says, “and that it would be work that I love.”
Maria Martino Evans is a writer based in Pipersville.