When Jeff McNeil met Willow, it was puppy love at first sight.
The Mets utilityman first locked eyes with the pooch at batting practice before a game against the Pirates on July 26, and he knew right away he wanted to make her a part of the family.
“I saw her and I picked her up and I was like, ‘I need to have this puppy,’” McNeil told amNewYork. He and his wife Tatiana had been hoping to adopt a dog in the near future, and it seemed like the right time. He’d always wanted a big dog, and he could tell the Alaskan malamute mix had a lot of growing to do.
As if to drive the point home, the Mets defeated the Pirates that night, in part thanks to a home run by McNeil — he took it as a sign the pup was his good luck charm.
“That day I ended up hitting a home run, so I kind of convinced the wife, maybe a puppy had something to do with it,” he said. “I said I’d hit more homers if I got a puppy.”
The McNeils wasted no time in making it official — they adopted Willow the very next day from North Shore Animal League, a no-kill rescue and adoption organization that takes a group of adoptable dogs to Citi Field to promote the cause.
A representative for the rescue organization said she could tell McNeil was serious about Willow right away.
“He was like, ‘Oh my god, I love that puppy, I have to adopt that puppy,’” recalled North Shore director of communications Kathleen Lynn. “I said, ‘We can make that happen!’”
Lynn got a text from McNeil that night on her way home from the game asking to come by North Shore the next day to make it official. Because he was going on the road shortly after, Willow stayed with a foster family for a while — the McNeils came straight from the airport on Sunday to scoop her up, and she’s been with them since.
Lynn said it was truly meant to be — North Shore had been planning on bringing the pups to Citi Field three weeks earlier, but postponed their appearance due to the weather.
“Willow would not have been here that night if we had come three weeks earlier,” she said. “It was kismet.”
North Shore has been teaming up with the Mets for several years to promote adoption and help furry friends find new homes. The organization brings adoptable dogs to Citi Field once a year, said Lynn. In addition the group hosts Bark at the Park, when Mets fans can buy a ticket to bring their four-legged companions into the stadium. A portion of tickets at those events go to benefit North Shore.
North Shore rescues dogs from all across the country, said Lynn, taking dogs from overpopulated municipal shelters who would otherwise be euthanized. Willow was rescued from Tennessee, she said. It’s a cause McNeil said he’s proud to support, and encourages others to do the same.
“There are so many dogs that need to be adopted out there, it doesn’t make sense to go out and buy one from a breeder,” he said. “I think everyone who wants a dog should definitely look at the adoption route.”