Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
Forward Jon Matsumoto was on his way home from a Rampage game, the AT&T Center in his rearview mirror, when his wife spotted two stray dogs near a tattoo parlor on Houston Street.
One of them appeared pregnant. Jon stopped the car. Kristen Matsumoto, an animal lover, stepped out to check on the canine with a sagging belly. She noticed the dog was a male in distress. A mass the size of a cantaloupe hung from its stomach. A large scar covered the left side of its face. Teeth were missing.
The second dog, a female, had less severe trauma: an open flesh wound on the back left side, random cuts on her legs. Jon and Kristen took the strays home for the night, then drove them to the Animal Defense League the following day.
The dog with the stomach mass underwent surgery and survived. A hospital worker gave him the name, “Rampage.” Veterinarians treated the wounds of the second dog. The worker called her “Silver Star.”
“Both of them are doing great,” Jon says.
The rescues inspired the Rampage to start a collection drive to address the stray dog population near the AT&T Center. The team is encouraging fans at all seven Sunday home games to bring pet food, towels, blankets, paper towels, pet shampoo and plastic grocery bags for the Animal Defense League, a no-kill shelter in San Antonio.
“We are not asking fans for money,” says Jon, who will donate $20 to the Animal Defense League for every goal he scores this season. “We are asking them to bring things that might be around the house. Like old blankets, dog treats and plastic bags.”
The growing number of strays near the AT&T Center mirrors a citywide problem. The city and local animal shelters take in more than 50,000 stray cats and dogs a year, says Hugo Vital, communications director for the Animal Defense League. “In addition to that, solid waste management picks up over 30,000 dead cats and dogs a year,” Vital adds.
The series of Rampage collection drives -- “Matsumoto’s Rescues” -- will reinforce a message of responsible pet ownership.
“If we spay and neuter our pets, they will not be able to reproduce, which will drastically reduce the stray population,” Vital says. “We couldn’t be happier here at the Animal Defense League to partner with such a responsible and well-known organization as the Rampage.”
The Matsumotos own a rescue dog -- “Rooney” -- from Jon’s first stint with the Rampage. In January 2012, while the Rampage were playing .500 hockey, general manager Mike Santos acquired Jon from Charlotte in a three-player trade. Jon jump-started the team’s offense, scoring 10 goals and adding 16 assists in 35 regular season games.
He scored 13 points in the postseason, and helped the Rampage win their first playoff series in history. In the second overtime of Game 5 against Chicago, Jon assisted Roman Derlyuk for the game-winning goal.
During the season, the girlfriend of former Rampage defenseman Tyson Strachan rescued several stray puppies. Jon and Kristen took a mixed breed and named it Rooney. “We fell in love with him and never gave him up,” says Jon, who is also fostering a Chihuahua.
When Jon rejoined the Rampage in September, he and Kristen recognized the stray population around the AT&T Center had not improved. The Rampage already plays host to an annual event -- Pucks and Paws Night -- that benefits an animal welfare charity. So why not enhance that effort with a project that will benefit more strays?
At every Sunday Rampage game, the Animal Defense League will bring dogs ready for adoption to a “Matsumotos Rescues” table at the AT&T Center. Silver Star is ready for adoption but not Rampage.
Though he has recovered from surgery, Rampage faces a new challenge: heartworms. Jon says he should recover and the Matsumotos hope for a perfect ending to this story.
“Rampage and Silver Star have the same mother but are from different litters,” Jon says. “We don’t want them to be split. We are hoping someone will take both dogs.”